Most Annoying Habit In The World Ever

Statto‘s not the only one to get pissed off at some of the ways people abuse and misuse their language. I’m not perfect myself (contrary to my bedpartners’ claims), but there’s one form of linguistic butchery that really gets my goat.

The thing that really gets to me is the persistent and habitual misuse by some people of the word literally… to describe something which is not literally the case and is, in some cases, even a metaphor – quite the opposite of a literal. What these people mean to say, of course, is probably really (which has a double meaning – being real, which is virtually the same as literally – and as a term of exaggeration). Occasionally they mean particularly, in order to differentiate between other metaphor-inducing events. But usually, their needs would be serviced with a simple exclamation mark. Now it’s not to say that I haven’t made this mistake – I have – but somehow other people’s mental self-torture over their mistake never seems to atone for their sin.

Now comes a new torment, fresh from the habits of a co-worker of mine. He shall remain nameless, but how he infuriates me shall be known to all – having finally learnt what the word literally literally means (see what I did there?), he’s instead substituted it in his sentences with physically.

Sometimes, this would be okay – after all, sometimes he’s talking about things which are physical events and trying to exaggerate them. But he and I work together as software engineers, and so we spend a lot of time talking about virtual concepts such as variables and program code. Have you any idea how annoying it is to be stuck into a debugging session and be interrupted by a guy saying “I know I can use dot-clone, but can I physically copy an object structure in memory?”

It literally makes my blood boil.


  1. Suz Suz says:

    I thought I should point out the other side of the argument. As a languages student (which doesn’t just mean learning foreign languages but also studying the development of language itself), I need to point out to you all that language is fluid and changes over time. Not just lexically but also gramatically. How do you decide what is right? Originally, in many countries it was based on the most widely used forms among the dominating social groups. If we were to hang onto the original forms and meanings, language would be very different to how it is today. Have you thought that maybe literally no longer just means what you say it means, but has recently taken on new meaning? That is how language develops!
    This wasn’t intended to rubbish what you say, but there is a difference between using language badly, and using it in a way that does make sense. I’ve posted this to Statto too.

  2. Dan Q Dan Q says:

    Yes; I agree with you entirely, and so does somebody else who commented on Statto’s blog!

    I appreciate that the language is changing, and I embrace it.

    But this (mis)use of the word still annoys me. To me, “literally” doesn’t mean what it’s being used as, which causes the conflict. I understand that in the end this is a mere conflict of opinion, but I also believe that I will be seen to be right in the end, in this particular case.

  3. Dan Q Dan Q says:

    Oh; and thanks for you comment.

  4. Tom Tom says:

    I’m in full agreement with you. People DON’T know haw to use the word litreally. it’s one of many many words that are falling into misuse. I’m completely for the evolution of language but for a word to be used to signify the opposite of it’s true meaning is not evolution. The word just becomes redundant. I overheard a woman in a shop the other day having a conversation about her friend “literally” going through the roof in anger.

    My solution: Forced dictionary readng sessions…that and murder.

  5. The one that cracks me up – although I find it more amusing than irritating – is the ‘I turned round to him…’ factor.

    Paul Merton relayed a good example on Room 101 once about overhearing a conversation in a pub, in which the two guys kept saying things like ‘So he turns round to me…’, ‘I turned round to him…’, ‘You can’t turn round to me and say that…’ – the effect is like a pair of spinning tops.

    I rather like the concept of ‘physically’ programming something. It puts me in mind of that fourth dimension to mentioned dreaming about.

  6. Jon Jon says:

    Basically, langauge ticks are annoying. Basically.


  7. Claire Claire says:

    Basically, technically, actually, it’s literally, right, like, an horrendous misuse of the lingo.

  8. Dan Q Dan Q says:

    Yes. Yes it is. It is technically the case, actually. And it is literally horrendous (“hideous” or “dreadful”, by some definitions) to some people. =o)

  9. Statto Statto says:

    I’ve replied to Suz’s criticism on my ‘blog.

    Watch out for a full post about this kind of thing some time soon…

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