The Literally Complex or: Punch Paul Rudd In The Face
by Rob Cottignies
'Literally'- the verbal equivalent to the Bubonic Plague. And yes, I said boob. A-huh-huh.
My hatred for the misuse and abuse of 'literally' is known world-wide yet the offenders continue to offend. But I'm not here to repeat anything I've previously stated although I probably will anyway. There are two new misuses of the word which add complexity to its already-tarnished nature. These are as follows...
'This happened for real, not literally.'
I got this in a text message from a friend who commonly throws 'literally' around like a dog flinging a giant string toy. Those toys are great and dogs are great. Of course I mean real dogs and not little yippers on too-long leashes. Anyway, my friend's sentence is horribly wrong. Or is it not? I don't know anymore. Used in this context, 'literally' means 'not facetiously' which means 'for real'. How can something actually happen without actually happening? I am not a Physics guy. A Physician is a doctor. What's someone who knows and works with Physics? A scientist! I am not a scientist. Clearly. Or maybe I'm literally a scientist, which could mean whatever you'd like.
This misuse perplexed me because it used the word to mean the opposite of what it means. There are probably wormholes and string theories and Greek manuscripts all around the phrase, rendering it both useless and mind-blowing.
The second misuse I overheard in a bar: "That deli literally wrote the book on how to be a good deli."
This one knocked me on the floor. Not for real, but literally. I was stunned and completely confused upon hearing it. I broke down this statement into three sections:
Applause- "...literally wrote the book..." Yes! This is how one would write a book! Literally! Literature! Fantastic! In my professional opinion, the word was used correctly in this part of the sentence.
Non-existence- "...the book on how to be a good deli." There is no book and you should know by now that I certainly checked. Did I literally check since it's book-related? Aaaaaahhhhhh!!!!!! There are books about how to run a successful restaurant and give good customer service but not one specifically about being a good deli. I can excuse this though since a little exaggeration never killed anyone except some cat which is fine because cats are stupid.
Impossible- "That deli literally wrote..." No, it didn't. A delicatessen is a store with walls, windows, a door or two, counters, refrigerators, et cetera. Not one of these things can have a sentient thought, let alone scribble said unreal thought on some form of paper. Put them all together and there is still not one thought in a deli. The workers can and likely often do have thoughts. But the statement was not about a deli owner or worker. It was devised to make me think that A DELI- LITERALLY- WROTE- A BOOK! No! Stop it!
I have a few anti-literally allies and we have discussed several times that we may be witnessing the evolution of a word, like how 'island' is a shortened form of 'isolated land'. That's why it contains that crazy S! And actually, I made that up recently but doesn't it seem right? Maybe it is. Tell your friends. I bet nobody will call you out. Perhaps my friends and I don't know what 'literally' means even though we've done extensive research on the topic and have absolutely no doubt that we are hearing it misused on a daily basis.
Can a word lose its meaning just because people who don't understand it use it often enough?
A friend and anti-literally activist traced back to what he thinks brought about this 'literally' phenomenonsense™. Paul Rudd. Apparently he used it or emphasized with it or molested it in some other way in some movie I probably never watched. I enjoy Paul Rudd but I cannot forgive this even though he was just acting. If you see Paul Rudd, punch him in the face. Tell him it's from me and I believe he'll appreciate your reason for violence. My theory is that each time Paul Rudd gets punched in the face, one person will forget that the word 'literally' exists and never use it again. Paul Rudd will have to receive millions of punches in the face for this word to dissipate to an acceptable level but I think it's worth it. Sorry, Paul Rudd. Once more- punch Paul Rudd in the face. Paul Rudd.