I just need to say this real quick: You friggin’ hippies are ruining everything. Literally.
Of course, I’m referring to the recent internet explosion of debate about the incorrect usage of “literally” to mean the precise opposite of what the word really means being accepted as an alternative meaning.
Folks, this isn’t like accepting “nookyal’r” as a fair-and-balanced pronunciation for a particularly dangerous variety of WMD. This is like making “up” an accepted meaning for the word “down.” It’s like the various semantically absurd political slogans in Orwell’s 1984.
It isn’t adding to meaning of the word, it’s negating it and endangering the meaning of literally everything we do as civilized human beings.
LITERRAL IS FIGARATIVE. STUPIDITY IS SMARTFULNESS. WRONG IS WRITE!
How can this not be obvious? Accepting not simply an incorrect, but a diametrically opposite meaning eliminates the usefulness of a word. Add -1 to +1 and you get zero. Basic, simple, irrefutable.
“Literally” once could be used to clarify claims that might seem at first glance to be hyperbole: “He hit the guardrail with his motorcycle and literally landed a hundred feet away and walked off without a scratch!” But, with its incorrect usage now being accepted, the word means nothing unless you modify it … with one of another word-pair of opposites that mean what “figuratively” and “literally” used to mean.
Bud: “Wait, do you mean not-literally ‘literally’ for emphasis or literally ‘literally’ meaning ‘literally’?”
Lou: “Um, ‘literally literally’ meaning which ‘literally’ literally?”
Bud: “I… I’m not sure what I mean you might mean.”
Lou: “Okay, wait. I mean physically ‘literally,’ not emphatically-but-not-literally ‘literally.’”
This is the sort of inanity being legitimized here.
The shift accomplishes nothing at all in the way of improving communication and simply makes the use of “literally” semantically null, redundant, and impractical.
Don’t let The Man tell you how to talk!
But, appealing to practicality falls on deaf ears, because the underlying philosophy that enabled this idiotic decision is not utilitarian. It is the sheltered, consequence-blind, ideological nightmare of post-modern relativism we have inherited from the Flower Children.
The hippie-dippie relativist blurts, through a polluting haze of toxic, bratty idealism: “Don’t let The Man tell you how to pronounce ‘nuclear,’ bro!” Or, condensed to its essence: “You’re not the boss o’ me!”
Why characterize it as childish? Because this reactionary, naïve, contrarian, adolescent attitude ossified during a period of American history when youths outnumbered adults, and the backwash of thousands of hippie professors, celebrities, and activists keep reinfecting the following generations with this fetishization of teenage rebellion against any and all rules.
Hippie-dippie relativism reacts to any standard as if it were full-blown fascism, in a silly knee-jerk fashion more appropriate for a tantrum-prone child than an adult.
And, if you want to contend that I am exaggerating, explain the term “Grammar Nazi,” which conflates the stewards of proper language with a political cult of violent supremacists who systematically tortured, experimented on, and murdered millions of human beings for being the wrong race, religion, or sexuality, selling the gold from their teeth to fund a brutal war of conquest and making lampshades of human skin.
In a debate between people who say “You’re using that word incorrectly.” and “You’re a Grammar Nazi!” the latter faction is the one filled with dangerous, ill-educated morons.
It’s not a big deal, ma-a-a-n!
And to all of the oh-so-chilled-out hipsters around the web declaring that this is no big deal: You are idiots who have no idea what a dictionary is for or how civilization is sustained. And, I’m not at all sorry if this offends you, because you are the ones who should be apologizing.
First, what a dictionary is. People go to dictionary to get a definitive answer about the meaning of a word. Definition, definitive: same root, same idea. The dictionary mediates between a previous state of ignorance and a desired state of proper knowledge. To change dictionary definitions to accommodate improper usage defeats the core purpose of having a dictionary.
If the dictionary definition of a word is made to conform to whatever any ignorant ass thinks it should be, what’s the point of there even being a dictionary?
Second, why language standards are important.
Human civilization is not a bunch of marble arches and cherished Founders and dramatically swelling music behind Morgan Freeman’s statesman-like voice-over. Civilization is made up of ideas conveyed, and confirmed, through language. And, what this means for our current topic is, pay attention now: Language is the infrastructure of human civilization.
Allowing the integrity of the building blocks of language to corrode is not being liberal or progressive or open-minded. It is promoting the corruption of civilization.
Anyone who watched a heavily trafficked bridge rust away to scrap metal, until it collapses and sends dozens of vehicles plummeting into the gorge below, could immediately see how allowing the physical infrastructure of civilization to erode is A Bad Thing. But, many of us cheer the same sort of corruption in civilization’s psycho-social infrastructure, as if we’re being high-minded or encouraging diversity.
Encouraging kids to drink lighter-fluid is, technically speaking, encouraging culinary diversity. It’s also reckless and stupid. Diversity can be a very good thing, but that does not mean it is always a good thing. Unless you’re a hipster douche-bag with more PC pretense than insight, for whom words like “diversity” serve as little more than shibboleths for entry into some political Cool Club. Put down the “clove” cigarette that’s not fooling anybody and open up a dict— … oh, right, you’ve already corrupted the dictionary.
Having standardized meanings for words matters. Being able to understand and agree on what other people are saying is the only way to build interpersonal sympathy, justice, the rule of law, market prosperity, science, community, and an endless (not literally endless) list of other foundation blocks for a healthy, sustainable civilization.
If I say “property rights” and you can take that to mean “human slavery,” things are about to go South, both figuratively and (as during America’s Civil War) literally.
Most importantly, the semantic clarity of language itself hinges on the distinction between literal and figurative use of language, as juxtaposed in that previous sentence. The integrity of the word “literally,” and the concept it conveys, is the pivot around which the meaning of literally every other possible word swings.
This isn’t some silly word the Grammar Nazis freak out about. It conveys the keystone concept of the very infrastructure of the civilization that separates us from our not-so-distant ancestors who were in constant peril of being slaughtered by lions … or by other people.
People like the literal Nazis.
So, yes, this is a big deal. It’s not just another flicker in the kaleidoscope of pop culture vulgarity for us to giggle at and shrug off. If we cannot even muster the will and wisdom to preserve the meaning of a word that determines the meaning of all other words, wallowing in our failure we have declared that the corruption eating away at the English language is, literally, inoperable.