I realize that this post is a little bit different from my usual political and theological fare, but I’m just getting so fed up with this that I have to comment on it. If you must find a political tie-in, then you can say that the decline in the correct use of language is just another sign of the general decay in elegance and eloquence from the more aristocratic centuries past and the egalitarian idolization of plebeian mediocrity.
It is common in modern parlance to use the word “literal” and its adverbial derivative “literally” simply for emphasis. As an example, I draw from Glenn Beck’s introduction to the 30 Year Anniversary Edition of W. Cleon Skousen’s book The Five Thousand Year Leap. Needless to say, this author is duly skeptical of the book’s premise, but that is beside the point. In the section entitled Two Hundred Years Later, Mr. Beck has written this gem of a sentence:
A literal explosion of progress crackled wherever freedom could reach.
OK. Leaving aside the bizarre mixing of metaphors inherent in saying that an explosion “crackled,” we must note the use of the phrase “literal explosion of progress.” To any native English speaker with a single functioning brain cell, it must be evident that this is absurd.
Here’s a link to the Dictionary.com entry on “literal.” The only definition that to me seems applicable here is number 1:
in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical; the literal meaning of a word.
Clearly, the use of the word “explosion” to mean “great acceleration” is figurative and not literal! Yet the word is so used with such frequency as to lead those not well-acquainted with our tongue to suppose that “literal” is a word used to lend emphasis, rather than a clearly-defined adjective with a specific meaning.
My readers, take back the word “literal.” Use it in its correct context with its correct signification, and encourage others to do the same. Stop this act of verbicide, before language loses all meaning.
–Samuel C. Starrett
The Rambling Royalist