Wednesday, January 14, 2009

WNW: Banish the Paranoia, Literally.

This week's Word Nerd Wednesday is partially a public service announcement.

There is no need for bloggy/writing/conversational paranoia.

Really. I've had a lot of comments and e-mails along the lines of, "I'm not an English major, and I don't know grammar. You'll totally freak out reading my blog . . ."

But here's the thing: I won't. And I don't.

When I say that certain gaffs make me twitch, it's almost always in professional publications or other places like that.

Blogs and other casual settings, including daily conversation, aren't a big deal to me. Really, truly. There are places where the editor hat and the mental red pen go into a drawer and stay there.

An example, which has happened on many occasions:

A friend sends an e-mail, which I quickly read and reply to and don't think about again.

Five minutes later, another e-mail arrives, wherein the writer corrects her typo in the first e-mail, sure that I cringed reading it.

Here's the thing: I didn't even notice the typo, but now I have to go reread the e-mail and find the typo I'd glazed right over before.

(See, once it's pointed out, I have to look for it. It's like a cosmic law or something.)

Rest assured, I don't freak out over typos or grammar errors on blogs. I know they're not perfect, and they're not supposed to be.

Which is why I reserve the right to have typos and grammar errors on my blog as well. I have them frequently, and I figure that's okay.



Now for some actual WNW fun, a very common mistake people make:

Mixing up figuratively and literally

As with most errors, people generally go one direction with it, and in this case, it's using literally when they really mean figuratively.

Literally means it's actually, really, truly this way.

Figuratively, on the other hand, means that this is what something is like, but it's not really that way.

So if someone says, "I was so sick I literally coughed up a lung," they must be in the hospital (and likely on a transplant list) by now.

Or when someone says, "I was so happy I literally floated through the air," then you can assume they're living on some planet that has less gravity than Earth (or maybe they're holding onto a couple thousand helium balloons . . .).

When in doubt, think through what you mean. Is it really like that or are you trying to emphasize how bad/good/intense something was? If it's the latter, don't use literally.

Figuratively isn't nearly as fun to use (one reason I imagine that literally has been abused so much), so you can change up the sentence altogether, using neither:

"I swear, I was so sick I about coughed up a lung."

"I was so happy I practically floated on air."

See? Both of those work, make sense, and are actually feasible.

So what did we learn today?

1) No more bloggy/writing/speaking paranoia around here. Stop it already.

2) Literally and figuratively don't mean the same thing.

I'll literally be proud of anyone who uses them correctly. In fact, I'll figuratively burst with pride.

(I can't do that literally. That would hurt.)

UPDATE from last time:

This is somewhat appropriate, since we were just discussing paranoia. I finally caved: I e-mailed my editor and asked him to change the whole peach pie thing. He said he'd take care of it.

Phew. I think I'll sleep better now.

35 comments:

Lara said...

I never really thought about the literally thing. I suppose I always just looked at it as a way to double-emphasize hyperbole, and honestly, I'm not sure if I have ever used it that way or not. I'm so prone to exaggeration though, that I probably have.

If you want to twitch at something, the word verify for this post is worsest. :)

Rebecca said...

Whew! Thanks for the public service announcement! I, for one, am literally appreciative.

I'm figuratively on cloud nine.

Thanks for the laugh! The literally/figuratively thing is something I giggle at a lot.

If you need something else to put your peach pie incident behind you, I'll let you bake me a fresh one. Really, I will!

Annette Lyon said...

Rebecca, I think I'd get over it if you bake ME a pie. How 'bout it? :D

Luisa Perkins said...

I feel very relieved for you regarding the peach pie. Phew!

Blondie said...

My favorite misuse of the whole figuratively/literally thing was when someone once said,
"My heart literally melted" in a General Conference talk.

Now that's GOT to hurt!

Erin said...

I'm laughing at Lara's word verification!

You know, I'm sure I would make less mistakes if I sat back to actually READ what I write. The problem is, I have so many blogs to read and comment on, and posts I write in dark moments right before bedtime (in other words, my eyes are already halfway closed), that I can't bother with proofreading. So what you see is what you get! I'm glad you explained anyway, that correct grammar is necessary in professional spaces, but kind of optional in blogland.

Josi said...

First of all, the fact that you can stand reading my blogs and comments and have NEVER once corrected me, is proof that you mean what you say and that paranoia is a wasted element in regard to your grammar nazi reputation.

Second, I feel so powerful to have played a part in the pie dilemma. I also feel rather guilty--here you are, grammaticion extraordinaire, and here I am, the village grammar idiot, and I critiqued you into a complex. How sad.

::Jan:: said...

Well that is good news. I was one of the paranoid ones. Even though I knew that you really didn't care. But it was nice of you to put it out there like that.

I think it is great that you went for the pie change. That would have always been in the back of your mind. Now, no worries :)

Kristina P. said...

Can you please do a post on "irregardless" and how I hate it!

Heidi Ashworth said...

Aren't editors great? At least the good ones are. Glad you feel better. But but but --the literally ting--isn't it an exxageration? (Did I spell that right?) I mean, people know that they didn't literally cough up a lung, esp. since you can't. Isn't that what makes the statement funny? Stretching the meaning of words (such as plagiarism) is a comedic device. Right? (palms are sweaty and it's getting hot in here . . .)

Heidi Ashworth said...

I'm totally teasing you. Except the part about the word meaning stretching thing. I am literally dying over that one.

LisAway said...

I would love it people would start using "figuratively" in place of the literally. That would be amusing. Literally.

Heffalump said...

I worry more over spelling than grammar on my own blog.
Turthfully though, grammar is literally one of the reasons I haven't pursued writing more aggressively. I never went to college, and I really don't remember most of the rules of grammar from high school.
I'm glad to know you aren't red lining every comment or post though.

Anna Maria Junus said...

I worry that people won't be convinced that I'm an actual writer after reading my blog.

As for your fresh peach pie, I didn't think about fresh peaches, I thought you meant fresh pie but now that you've pointed it out, I can't get it out of my head.

And I'm curious to know what would be involved with your bloggy tour. I love doing reviews.

Rebecca said...

Ok, how about we both figuratively bake each other a pie? The mood I'm in I could easily eat a whole real one, especially since I told James last night that I wish I had a bushel of peaches. But I'll take my pie baked. With cinnamon...mmm.

Since we're making post suggestions, I have one for you. How about the whole "could care less" instead of "couldn't care less". When people say "I could care less" my knee-jerk response always wants to be, "Well then, why don't you?"

I would post on it myself but you do it so eloquently and would reach far more people. I'm begging shamelessly!

Brooke said...

It's like those cute "Parts" books for kids. Kids take things so literally. And make grammatical errors all you want so the rest of us feel normal!

wonder woman said...

Whew. Good to know you don't have spasms when you read my blog. I try to catch them them (like pokemon) but there's not much I can do it I don't know it's wrong!!!

Have you ever scene the MadTV sketch with the word "literally"? It is hilarious. Literally.

Sometimes I put grammatical errors in on purpose to be funny, then I get worried that people don't know I'm being funny. Like my title of "next biggest reality show ever." Kinda makes me cringe, but I also thought it was funny.

CaJoh said...

It reminds me of the Amish who put in a mistake on purpose so that it is not perfect. I think that people know that you twinge and try not to offend. Glad to know that you put your red pen down from time to time.

JustRandi said...

Ok no paranoia. Check.

And THANK-YOU from the bottom of my heart for reminding people about the literally thing.

That is literally one of my biggest pet peeves!!

Annette Lyon said...

Holy hannah--I just watched the Mad TV "literally" sketch. I'd post it here in its entirety, but since it's a bit PG-13, I won't.

But it's a great example of how "literally" doesn't often come across how you intended.

Literally. Ha!

Sher said...

Speaking of WNW, I think we all just have a "We're Not Worthy" attitude towards you.
Your literally/figuratively thing reminded me of something someone said that got on my nerves.
"Needless the say"
They would say stuff like "needless to say, I went to the store" (that's a bad example, I can't think of the actual example)
But I was thinking, yeah, you needed to say that, because otherwise I wouldn't have known! I don't think he really understand the actually purpose for using that phrase.
Anyway, thought I'd join in the fun!
Thanks, I love these Word Nerd posts!

Melanie J said...

That Mad TV sketch kills me. But just figuratively. This is one of my husband's biggest pet peeves and when I caught that on a channel flipping idle moment, I about killed myself laughing. Again, just figuratively.

Kimberly said...

Yay for the end of the peach pie debaucle!

I used to worry endlessly about grammar and whatnot, but finally realized I can learn it as I go.

From posts like this one, for example!

Alison Wonderland said...

Honestly, my favorite part of the post was the peach pie update. Literally.

An Ordinary Mom said...

You are my one and only grammar teacher :) !! For whatever reason while I was in school, I never had grammar lessons?!? Go figure ...

And you are right, it isn't much fun to say "figuratively" speaking.

Scribbit said...

Me too--and I kind of figure that comments don't really have to follow normal rules of spellling and grammar. What's a few mistakes between frieds>

Jenn said...

These comments are hilarious! You've opened Pandora's Box now...figur....Oh, the poor word's been used to death, I just can't.

Funny post. I'll have to check out the MadTV clip.

Karlene said...

Casual convo/email errors don't bother me. In fact, my mother tells me I speak like a hick and it makes her want to smack me.

But if it's a professional thing, where I'm supposed to pay money for it, or someone is earning money from it, more than a few grammar/vocab mistakes make me want to literally poke my eyes out with a fork.

The Boob Nazi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Boob Nazi said...

I judge people's blogs. I admit it. And this girl once pointed out a mistake I made on a blog, and I almost killed her. She has the WORST grammar and spelling I've ever seen. And she mixes up homophones ALL the time. I almost snapped, but then I remembered IT'S JUST A BLOG! But now I remember how she corrected me when she's wrong all the time (like get's over there), and it makes me feel MUCH better....

Jami said...

I never would have told you but I literally envisioned fresh peaches in a pie crust. (One of my faves.)

People misuse virtual all the time too. That doesn't annoy me as much as people calling wounds "pus-sy" or saying that they feel nauseous.

Jenna Consolo said...

Paranoia quelled.

Alyson (New England Living) said...

My husband and I have the same problem with people saying literally! We hate it used wrong and mercifully make fun of people who do. You know who uses it a lot? People on HSN and QVC! Don't know why, but they are literally so exicted they're going to pee their pants when they are selling their wares. ;)

LeeAnn said...

I'm a paranoid one. I should be better at the grammar thing, but one of my worst errors is mixing tenses. Thanks to you though, I've been taking a hard look at my writing and realizing I need to work on it!

another common word misspelling: exite instead excite---makes me want to say exit with an ai sound on the end.

Amir (May as well be Anonymous) said...

Dear Rebecca,
I don't know why I'm insisting on writing this so formally, but it may be partially due to the fact that at 15 - and grammatically more ignorant - I feel quite intimidated by your blog.
I have never encountered any of your work, to my misfortune, but rest assured I am quite tempted after reading this blog.
I was casually browsing the internet, looking to correct any flaws in my English grammar (as bored 15 year old boys do) and came to this blog.
I think it's quite inspirational to still have people fighting for the integrity of the English language and would be honoured if anyone could decompose and point out any grammatical mistakes I may have made, in the writing of this reply.
I hope to read more from you and would just like to say that you are a commendable individual and it was a pleasure to have crossed your blog. :)

Yours,
Amir

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