Don’t You LIE To Me
By Rob Cottignies
There is a hideous plague infecting our nation’s people. It is not spread through the air nor by physical contact, but via everyday eyesight and speech. Some blame the schools. Some blame the internet. Some blame texting. Some blame Texas! While I’m all for blaming Texas, the problem is even bigger than our second-biggest state (Yay, Alaska!). I admire and applaud the crusades of grammatical heroes like Lynne Truss (author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves) but I think their fight is a losing one. Many people regularly commit the written equivalent of genocide to spelling and punctuation has been *figuratively* thrown into the heart of a tornado to be painfully ripped apart and scattered to the depths of places that make no sense.
While people wiser than myself brave that battle, I turn to three simple words which are misused and horribly abused on a daily basis. These are words that are commonly used and are almost as commonly used incorrectly because people don’t understand their actual meanings. And now, a list…
The word 'literally,' in a literal sense, literally means 'in a literal sense.' Word for word. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Someone at work asked me to give him a hand. I took him literally and now I'm in prison for aggravated dismemberment. If you claim to have literally slept for a week, I’m going to assume you unfortunately just woke up from a coma. That's all it means.
Alternately, comedian David Cross once said, "When you misuse the word 'literally,' you are using it in the exact opposite way it was intended." Mister Cross speaks the truth. I’ve certainly heard my share of the word used for emphasis when it actually discredited the entire thought. For example, “I was so hungry that I literally ate my dinner in five seconds.” No, you didn’t. I guarantee it took you way longer than that. This word which means full truth was used in a lie. I don’t like that.
In uglier and more recent times, people have been using the word strictly for emphasis. Though its use is often not quite incorrect, it is certainly unnecessary. I frequently hear people use the word in *practically* every other sentence and it makes no sense at all. 'I woke up late so I LITERALLY had to go right to work.' Experience leads me to believe you did at least three things before you left for work, but since I don't care at all, I believe you. Omit the word in question and your story does not become any more or less boring.
I think the word 'literally' can *really* only be used properly when discussing translation. The German phrase 'Scheiße von Stier' literally translates into English as 'Shit of bull,' which means bullshit, which is what you are literally full of when you misuse this word.
When John Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, his direct shots missed. Reagan, however, was standing outside of his vehicle, which had bulletproof windows. One bullet bounced off a window and struck the President. That window was installed to prevent him from getting shot but in this instance actually caused a bullet to hit him. That's irony.
When a group protests something such as a controversial movie, they want to sway people from being interested in it. Quite often, the public pays more attention to the movie because of the uproar and many people see it when they might not have been aware of it had the group not protested. That's irony.
When my mother called me a son-of-a-bitch, her intent was to insult me, yet she actually insulted herself. That's irony.
Not one thing Alanis Morissette describes in her song 'Ironic' is ironic, which is (arguably) ironic.
Seeing some bozo in a bar who is wearing the same stupid t-shirt as you is not ironic. It's a very small coincidence and nothing more.
The meaning of ‘irony’ is highly-debated but it is described as something spoken or occurring that is the opposite of the intended result. The above examples should accurately express this notion to you, but please do everyone a favor and just don’t use the word.
Firstly, it should be noted that ‘epic’ is a shortened form of the word ‘epidemic.’ Secondly, what should also be noted is I made that up, though that does not mean it isn’t true. In a stand-up comedy bit, Louis C.K. discussed how we, as a people, "go right to the top shelf for our words." He was specifically talking about 'hilarious' and 'amazing.' I am going to do my best not to rip him off too much.
Once upon a time, the word 'epic' was used to describe long-as-hell poetic compositions such as The Divine Comedy. Lawrence Of Arabia is often described as an epic film because of its legendary "cast of thousands." Our Sun is epic because the proportions of it are literally mind-blowing. (Ironic, huh?) Nowadays, nominal things such as furniture store sales and candy bars are referred to as 'epic.' I don't know what started this whole 'epic fail' business, from where I believe all of this stemmed, but it must be stopped. Reserve this word for the Great Wall Of China or Beethoven's Symphonies or, okay, a Slinky. I mean, how freakin’ cool are Slinkys?
Please make more of an effort to respect our language. Stop using words whose meanings you do not know. Don’t arbitrarily throw words into your sentences because that’s what people are doing. And exaggeration can be great, but don’t be excessive with it.
Moral of this rant: Let a chicken sandwich be just a chicken sandwich.