Thursday, January 19, 2012

Figuratively On Fire Over "Literally"

        Pet peeves surface this time of year.

        Cooped up inside. Ruminating over what really bugs me.

        See what you think of this.       

         When Tom Brady threw for five touchdowns in the first half of the big game against Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos two  Saturdays ago, the radio announcer breathlessly exclaimed, "The Patriots' quarterback  is literally on fire!"

        Oddly, I did not hear any reports of Brady suffering third-degree burns or being rushed to the hospital for treatment because of his sudden close encounter with flammability.

        That's because what the announcer meant to say was that the New England signal caller was performing so superbly that he was on fire,  figuratively speaking.

        You see, the word  " literally" means "actually".

        If I told you that I gave a speech but   found the audience to be literally dead, it would mean that the auditorium was filled with dead bodies. Actual corpses.  It would be time to call the coroner.

        Here's another example.

        In 2007 Jerry Falwell said the following in a speech:  "This homosexual steamroller will literally crush all decent men, women, and children who get in its way."

        Falwell  obviously was intending to speak  metaphorically.

        By using the word "literally" he conveyed the opposite. His  words meant that we all should watch out for a giant Caterpillar Tractor driven by Rosie O'Donnell, running us down, our mutilated bodies stuck in the treads of the huge tires.

        We have become such an uneducated nation that we don't  respect our own language.

        The misuse of the word "literally" has become rampant and I would like it to stop.

 I want it to stop because I want Americans to embrace the true beauty of our English language.

 It is the  form of human expression that allowed the blossoming of Shakespeare and the poignant simple elegance of the Gettysburg address.

        It is our beautiful language that helped us realize the moral truths found in Huckleberry Finn and the mystical significance of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's  Rime of The Ancient Mariner.

        Only in the English language do you get that certain chill as Humphrey Bogart turns to Ingrid Bergman, touches her face gently, and softly intones, "Here's lookin' at you,  kid." Casablanca. Fantastic.

        So my friends, let's clean up our use of the word "literally".

        Our sloppy use of this word in the media and in ordinary conversation is   another symptom    of the decay of American culture.

        And it's killing me.

        Figuratively speaking, that is.


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