Literally?

Confused man

 

A few days ago, a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook concerning the use of the word ‘literally’ in the increasingly popular figurative sense.  The article unfortunately seems to have disappeared at the moment, but the gist of it was pointing out that most dictionaries have now appended this alternate meaning to the word’s definition, and explaining that this usage may have originated with, or was at least first recorded in, Frances Brooke’s The History of Emily Montague (published in 1769).

Naturally, this sparked a conversation on whether or not this sort of language development is acceptable.  Prior to encountering this, I had no idea there was even a movement to gain legitimacy for this non-literal use of ‘literally’, as it’s kind of the butt of diction jokes everywhere, but there are apparently many who feel that rejecting it (or any other semantic shift) amounts to needless linguistic authoritarianism.

My own take on the matter was as such:

The evolution of language and words is a natural, inevitable thing, and in the general case it is something to be embraced.  That said, stability is a necessity of language’s functionality, thus any given modification cannot be assumed to possess intrinsic merit.

Language is a tool of communication, of which clarity is an important aspect, and I should assert that preserving its ability to convey meaning is a not an unworthy goal, particularly in an instance such as this wherein the suggested secondary interpretation of a term, when used in the same context, implies something strictly antithetical to what the accepted definition would.  This dilution of precision, while admittedly neither entirely untenable nor without precedent, is nevertheless customarily unfavorable.

(That the word was used in this sense a few centuries ago scarcely argues its virtue – words have been used improperly since words were first words, and most such misuses do not incur a change in their respective societal perceptions!)

But, I’ll concede to being guilty of a little linguistic snobbery.  People will say what they will, and language will be thus, regardless of what may or may not be in its own best interest.  (>^-‘)>

 

I’m curious to hear where others lie on the issue, though.  Any thoughts to add?

 

Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Merism

Merism

/’mɛrɪzəm/  |  MAIR-iz-mm

 

Where a synecdoche is a specific type of metonym, a merism is a specific type of synecdoche in which a phrase refers to something by the name of a few of its components (usually two in contrast).  Like other metonyms, their usage most often comprises pre-established terms (such as saying “high and low” or “near and far” to mean “everywhere“), rather than existing in unique cases.

 

Other examples:

  • The slog can corrode you, mind and body.  [Referring to the ‘whole of a person’ to mean completely]
  • Don’t let the slog waste your blood, sweat, and tears.  [Referring to products of ‘bodily exertion’ to mean hard work]
  • Being the worst is the slog‘s bread and butter.  [Referring to ‘basic needs’ (by way of food) as a function of their acquisition to mean manner of supporting oneself]

 

Merism.  Use it.

 

Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Tautology

Tautology

/tɔˈtɒlədʒi/  |  taw-TAW-luh-jee

 

Tautology is a multifaceted concept.  In most cases, it refers to something contextually uninformative.  This can be as simple as a redundant word or phrase (“He burnt his hand in hot fire.”, “Julie the bachelorette arrived last, without a husband.”), but in what I’d call its most interesting form, a tautology is an entire assertion that is rendered intrinsically meaningless strictly because it is inherently true.

With so many ways to convey information in language, there is just something I find almost artfully ridiculous in the construction of a syntactically and semantically sound statement which nevertheless effectively communicates nothing under any interpretation.

 

Examples:

  • The stupid things that the slog does are all stupid.
  • The slog is precisely as terrible as it is.
  • Either I’ll defeat the slog, or I won’t.

 

Tautology.  (Don’t?) use it.

 

Bene scribete.

The Woodlander

The Woodlander - Kirk Watson

 

A little while back, I had the distinct pleasure of serving as editor for Kirk Watson’s fantasy adventure, The Woodlander.  Watson himself pitched the novel as “The Most Dangerous Game” meets Fantastic Mr. Fox, and after jumping at that hook, I found it to be a pretty apt encapsulation!

An animal tale for an older audience (teens and up), the story focuses on a downtrodden squirrel named John Grey – a reporter whose cynical disposition and snarky quips are reminiscent of a hardboiled detective of ’30s pulp, and an immediately likeable protagonist for it.  Six months after a terrible tragedy divested John of his will to write, a strange encounter outside a tavern prompts the squirrel to pull himself together for one more assignment, but when his investigation takes him to the less savory parts of town, he quickly finds himself a part of the story he meant to report.

Well-written with plenty of action, humor, and heart, this is a book I would gladly recommend even if I had nothing to do with it.  (>^-‘)>

The Woodlander is the first volume of The Grey Tales series, and is currently available for 99¢ on Kindle – a tough deal to beat for a full-length novel of this caliber, so take advantage of it while you can!

And don’t forget to check out the author at http://thegreytales.com/

 

Bene scribete.