It Literally Breaks My Heart

And now for another installment in my utterly unknown and ignored series on Creative Misuses Of The English Language. Last entry I established that lunatic drivers on the Interstate annoy me. You want to know something else that annoys me, not so deeply but certainly more frequently? The use of the word "literally" to mean "figuratively."

I hear this one a lot. I remember reading someone referring to one of the Republican's endless attacks on Bill Clinton, saying, "They literally crucified him over this." Just between you and me, I think that if Bill Clinton had been literally crucified we probably would have heard a little more about it than we did, even with the American media in the god-awful shape it's in these days.

I heard this one a few Sundays ago on a football highlights sequence, where they were recounting a tough game that Kurt Warner had suffered through. The broadcaster said, "Kurt Warner fell apart in this game, literally!" No. No, he didn't. I guarantee you Kurt Warner did not fall apart literally. No quarterback in history has ever been hit so hard that he fell apart literally. Kurt Warner is not Mr. Potato Head. (Though in a different sense, I think we could safely apply the label "Mr. Potato Head" to Terrell Owens.)

Another pet peeve of mine in football broadcasting is when the quarterback throws a long pass, and the defender bats it away, and the broadcaster announces, "He broke that play up at the last second!" He broke it up at the last second? Really! And when the hell else is a free safety going to break up a pass play? When was the last time you saw a safety break up a pass with plenty of time to spare? The technical term for breaking up a pass with plenty of time to spare is "Batted down at the line of scrimmage," or, in more extreme cases, a "sack."

While I'm on the subject, don't speak in formal business terms if you don't know how to use them. Where I work, someone recently wrote in to complain about a product they purchased, and after explaining the problem they demanded, "Please advise the discrepancy!" That doesn't mean anything at all. Also, unless you genuinely know how to use them, always avoid words like "aforementioned," "forthwith," "hereunder," "hereinafter," "heretofore," or, god forbid, "paradigm." A good rule of thumb is this: If the amount of time it took you to make sure your paragraph was correct was not at least doubled by each use of the aforementioned words, you didn't use them correctly.

Finally, anyone operating a beauty pageant should be shot without trial. Literally. It's not a creative misuse of the English language, but I feel strongly about it and it bears mentioning anyway, so there it is.

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