Recently we received a press release containing the following phrase:
She literally catapulted herself into a new rank of club performers...
Certainly there was an easier way to go about career advancement. Picture it! A singer climbs to the top of a catapult to be hurled into a row of frightened fellow artists below (replacements for those already flattened by the last catapulting). Is she vocalizing as she flies through the air while those below freeze in terror? As Holly Golightly would say, “The mind reels”.
Here at Two Well Read we are taking a stand against the misuse of the word literally. Of course, we aren’t literally taking a stand. We’re sitting. But even so….
According to one of our favorite writers on matters verbal, Mr. Roy Blount Jr., "This word, which derives from letter, as in 'the letter of the law', means just what it says, which is to say: ”meaning just what it says.” It should not be used to mean its opposite: virtually, or figuratively...."
Ah! Perhaps former president G.W. Bush really meant to say that the mission was figuratively accomplished.
Won’t you join us in our quest to restore this word to its proper place? The next time some hapless fellow tells you he "literally went through the roof” or “literally died”, ask for proof. Were there splinters involved? A white light? If not, perhaps you can gently suggest a better linguistic path. Together we can literally make a difference.
PS The quote from Roy Blount Jr. is from his fabulous new book Alphabet Juice. If you love words as we do, check it out. It’s a great read!