By Mara Nelms
Monday, January 23, 2012
Guest Post: The proper uses of 'Literally' by Mara Nelms
On The Proper and Improper Uses of the Word Literally
The word “literally” has, for some reason, become popular in the local Southern vernacular of the English language. I don’t know why for certain, but I theorize that to certain people the use of the word gives off an air of intelligence. However, to someone who actually knows the proper use of the word “literally”, the sentence “I was literally really terrified,” just sounds stupid. “Literally” is not a substitute for the word “really.” It does not mean “extremely” or “very” and it should not be used to express vehemence. “Literally,” when used properly, is used only in the company of metaphors, similes, or hyperboles to express that the statement accompanying actually is not a metaphor, simile, or hyperbole.
For instance, “literally” should not be present in this sentence: “I was literally so, so happy!” That sentence does not contain a hyperbole, metaphor, or simile. It can, however, be used here: “I was literally so happy I could burst, because when I was five and three months old my parents had a bomb implanted in my stomach that would be triggered by extreme emotions.” Usually when people say that they are so happy they could burst, it is an exaggeration based on the excited, swelling feeling they had. Here, however, the unfortunate speaker was so happy that the bomb in her stomach could have exploded, making her literally burst. She was clarifying that she was not in fact exaggerating for effect, but being deadly serious. Thus, the correct use of the word “literally.”
See again an example with a metaphor: “Even by math teacher standards, she was an evil little imp.” Here the speaker is merely comparing her math teacher to an imp (the teacher probably assigns a lot of homework and doesn’t bother reviewing the material.) However, consider this statement: “My math teacher is literally an evil little imp!” To the educated observer, this sentence means either one of two things: one; that the math teacher is a horned creature from the depths of hell (or an extremely mischievous child), or two; that the speaker is an *effing idiot.
If you’ve done this before, don’t worry. Your sins against the English language are forgiven, mostly; by me, anyway, provided that you repent and don’t do it ever ever again or else I will throw you into Grammar Hell. Are we understood?
Mara Nelms is the author of the blog: My Purse bit my Best Friend, which is extremely entertaining as you may have guessed. We look forward to more guest posts from Mara.
*in an effort to keep this blog PG13, I changed one word. I'm not a fan of censorship but my readers range in age from thirteen on up and generally don't see that type of language from me or my posts. Thank you for understanding. (not that they can't figure out what the word is supposed to be anyway)
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