The Popcorn Stand: I’m literally not sick over this, or am I?

In my continued grievance about words as an old fuddy, duddy, I’ve been made aware it’s now OK (one of my favorite words) to use the word literally even when you actually don’t mean literally. Literally. Whatever (as I’ve written before, our society’s least favorite word and certainly one of my least favorite words).

As the Executive Assistant Editor of the Sierra Nevada Media Group, Nevada Appeal Division, newsroom branch (I also don’t like long titles so I gave myself one), this upsets me. When I was in high school and college working on my craft as a writer every teacher I had told me never to use the word literally when you actually mean figuratively. Like (Ugh, another word I’m not too terribly fond of) if I write “you literally made my head explode,” that would obviously be incorrect. Unless, of course, I was dead.

But now the linguist John McWhorter (have to admit pretty hard to argue with a linguist) says it’s now OK to use literally when you really mean figuratively. He covers how English constantly changes in his book: “Words on the Move: Why English Won’t and Can’t Sit Still.”

It seems we now have contronyms (it’s tough enough to keep up with antonyms, synonyms, homonyms, etc.) in which words can have two opposite meanings and literally is now one of those words.

So I guess over the years words like (again that word, I really should write such as) sick, bad and fat (or is it phat) have been contronyms all along.

For me I’m sick of all these sick (that means good) words that can apparently now be used any way we want. Literally. (And when I say literally, I actually mean figuratively because I’m not really sick).

— Charles Whisnand


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