A few years ago, I read some random fluff piece about how we misuse the word ‘literally.’ The author bravely pointed out that often when we say that word, we tend to misuse it. “Literally, I was going insane,” says one illiterate person. “Oh my god, I was literally falling apart,” said another.
Both are easy examples of how we humans can sometimes make very little sense. We want to punctuate whatever point we are making, and by doing so, we sloppily paste the word ‘literally’ over virtually any point we wish to emphasize, often tearing down the rules of literacy while doing so.
And then, one day, we all started using it. Literally, every last one of us uses that word a million times daily, and literally every last one of us uses it when we shouldn’t. Because literally we are creatures of habit and stupidity. If you did a little experiment documenting how many times you hear that word each day, you would be surprised to know that this word literally surrounds you.
My five-year-old daughter uses the word. My 75-year-old uncle uses it too. Hipsters use it. Twenty-something retail workers use it. The word gets around. It’s like the sex worker of adverbs.
For those of us who count the written word as our way of making a living, once you are conscious of the bastardization of the word, you will notice that you can’t unhear it. Everyone says it. All the time. And mostly incorrectly. I haven’t felt this way since Ethan Hawk popularized the word “ironic” in the film Reality Bites, the first domino in an annoying trend that saw millions of people paste the word “ironic” onto situations that were not ironic.
Even Alanis Morisette’s hit single “Ironic” contained song lyrics that were supposed to be ironic but ended up being an example of a juxtaposition or coincidence. This is what we do, us humans. We find the easiest and often the dumbest way of explaining things, then roll with it because we are literally too lazy to correct it. For example, there once was a scandal called Watergate. It was called that because the crime was committed at the Watergate Hotel. Fair enough, right?
Nope. Ever since Watergate, the media has collectively decided to paste the word “Gate” onto any scandals, oversimplifying whatever scandal they are reporting on so that even the appearance of trying to be original is literally burned to the ground.
But we can put a stop to this. I have begun the process of de-literally-ing people in my social circle. The results have been universal.
“I literally had no idea how much I was saying the word,” wrote one friend.
“Fuck you, James,” wrote another.
Both are fair comments, but if we want to be taken seriously, we need to literally remove the word from our lexicon. And if you believe everything is lovely despite our addiction to the word literally, you can #GFY.