File under: Awkward Usage, Modern language, “Literally”
Hello, Modern Language Users:
Um, hey, gosh guys, I’m not sure how to put this. You know when you say things like “That was literally the biggest meal ever”, or “That was literally off the hizzy”? You know what I’m talking about? Yeah, about that…
Yeah, um, I’m no Grammar Nazi, I mean, not anymore, and I certainly enjoy the flexibility of writing in this casual style. It’s just that I think what you think “literally” means isn’t what it means? Ya know?
If something is literal, it exists or occurs precisely as the phrase you use to describe the event or object. This is in opposition to something being “figurative” , and we (and by we, I mean, apes who can read the printed word) quite often use the word “literally” to explain the subtle irony of something having the attributes of being figurative (metaphorical, non-real), but having occurred precisely as the metaphorical device describes it. Now, I think some of you use “literally” in a hyperbolic way, so let me provide an example.
If my girlfriend left me- I’m sorry- If I had a girlfriend and she left me, I could say “So and so left me, and I fell to pieces, figuratively” to describe my distraught emotional state. However, if my girlfriend left me and notified me by planting a live grenade in my anus, with my dying breath I could gather the bloody ribbons of my violently redistributed internal organs and utter the phrase- again note the subtle irony here- “So and so left me, and I LITERALLY fell to pieces.”.
See how that works? Now, contextually, it seems a bit like when we say “literally” we are exaggerating the outcome, and the feeling of hyperbole carries over to how some of you charming-but-tediously-retarded folks use the word in other contexts. “Literally” is not used to emphasize the scale or importance of something, it is simply contextually linked to such events when used correctly. It seems to emphasize something because of the unlikelihood of an event which is metaphorical or figurative being played out in real life.
So, just to clarify, because I know some of you kids go a bit squinty when we talk language, here is an alternative example:
When you say “that was literally the biggest meal ever that I just ate”, what you mean is ‘That was figuratively the biggest meal ever”, or even more probably you mean “that was a very large meal”. However, if you just consumed LITERALLY the biggest meal ever (“Evar” for those of you who are LOLcats) the fact that you are alive and aren’t hospitalized from a burst stomach or, say, the crushing gravitational pull of the largest meal ever suggests to me that you did not mean “literally”. Oh, and backtracking a bit, I meant “probably” literally, not subjectively- like, there is a greater probability that you mean “That was a very large meal.”.
I recently heard someone say “this [party] is literally off the hizzy”.
There is so little meaning embedded in that arrangement of words that even Roland Barthes would be hard pressed to defend your inexplicable linguistic construct.
Do I even dare break this down? I do? Okay, I will.
“This [party]“: Fine. We understand that the party is the subject of your clause, well done. A verb should complete this. In fact, you didn’t even say the word “party”, but you implied it with gestures. You could have meant “this wonderful evening” or “this happenstance meeting of a doe-eyed brunette woman and you, Rob, only you” instead of “party”, but we basically get that you are referring to the events of the night in general.
“This [party] is“: Also fine, “is” is an intransitive verb. You are about to tell me in what state the “party” exists, or how it is to be. I might add here that we loosely understand that the “party” is inclusive the people, place and mood of the event, so however we describe the party next is referring to the sum of these things as if they were a single subject.
“This [party] is literally“: So far so good, whatever the party “literally” is, it had better not be a metaphor or conceit of any kind.
“This [party] is literally off the hizzy“. STOP. NO. HOLD THE FIGURATIVE PHONE. You have eradicated all meaning from your words. You might as well speak in gibberish. Let’s break this down again
“off the hizzy“: This is a slang adaptation of “off the hook”, as in “the phone is off the hook” as in “this event is of enough importance that the phone, so as not disturb our important event, has been taken off of it’s telephone cradle or “hook”.
As the mechanics say, “well, here’s your problem right here”:
“This [party] is literally off the hizzy“: You are telling me that this party, which, firstly, you never actually clarified was specifically what you were referring to because you didn’t say party, and secondly, which is a collection of people in a place enjoying festivities, has been removed, in its entirety, people, location, and all, from what I am to understand, only colloquially, is a large hook (or cradle) like a telephone has.
Not only have you used a slang phrase to describe the state of existence of the sum of the things that make up this party, but you have implied that it is somehow being transported atop some kind of giant telephone.
You. Don’t. Mean. Literally.
You could have just said “This party is off the hizzy.” and I would have understood this as a metaphorical construction. We’re all used to that sort of thing. “Our love is the ocean.” or “This is heaven.” are metaphors we understand. If you say “Our love is literally the ocean” that becomes uniquely inexplicable, and if you say “this is literally heaven” then you have shaken the last of my Judeo-Christian faith by exposing me to the outstanding shittiness of heaven on a day to day basis.
Now, I may not be an expert per se, and God knows a discussion of my extensive use of the parenthetical comma could fill an entire essay, but I can read a dictionary, and I do know what “literally” means, and to quote Inigo Montoya, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”.
Anyways, you guys, I hope that clears some things up, because I have literally had it up to here with your incorrect usage of the word “literally” and I am literally going to lose it, and I am literally going to kill you if you don’t stop it, because you are literally an amoebic shit stain if you can’t get this.
Fun bonus puzzle: Figure out what I actually meant in my last sentence!