Archive | Month 01: Literally RSS feed for this section

Introducing… The Monthly Extended Feature!

2 Jan

Sometimes 500 words just isn’t enough. Sometimes we want to say more. Or maybe we want to say something different altogether, outside the confines of a competition and a specific prompt.

It is for these occasions that we at The Humble Rumble have decided to unleash The Monthly Extended Feature, a.k.a. MEF.

Extended Feature

Truthfully, we just pulled this out of our asses because I went crazy this round and wrote a dissertation for my entry. But we think it’s a decent idea. Here’s the deal:

– At the end of every month, one of us will post a longer entry on a topic of our choosing. (So for those of you who have been eagerly awaiting Adonal’s short stories or Pete’s in-depth analysis of Rick Ross lyrics, don’t worry–they’re coming.)

– Normally the MEF will take the place of the standard rumble, but this week it sort of happened by accident, so you get both. Merry Christmas.

Without further ado, here is the most important thing I’ll ever write…


A Call To Arms

2 Jan

Ok. This is it.

This is the moment you’ve all—or at least I’ve—been waiting for. This is, essentially, the only reason we started this blog at all: so that I could write this manifesto and publish it to the world.

Yes, it’s that important.

I should clarify: This is not a pet peeve. The annoyance of impractically small ketchup packets is a pet peeve; that some individuals insist on aggressively crinkling their popcorn bags during the quiet, dramatic climax of a movie is a pet peeve. This is different. This is the bane of my existence. Calling this a pet peeve is like calling a decapitation a “scratch,” like calling Freddie Kruger “antisocial,” or like calling Pete’s breath “unpleasant.”

Yes, it’s that bad.

I am, of course, referring to what is surely the greatest challenge facing our generation: the overuse and misuse of the word “LITERALLY.”

You know what I’m talking about. You hear it all the time….

“This is literally the funniest thing ever. I’m literally shitting my pants.”

“My head is literally going to explode.”

“My jaw literally dropped to the floor.”

“He literally carried the team on his shoulders.”

“He literally fucked her brains out.”

“It’s so hot/cold. I’m literally melting/freezing/dying.”

“They literally had a bazillion different sandwiches.”

You mean “figuratively.” Your trousers are not filled with feces. His shoulders aren’t that big. They only had eight sandwiches.

And yet, you say “literally,” which is confusing to me because its meaning is not even close to that of “figuratively.” In fact, IT’S THE TOTAL FUCKING OPPOSITE!!

It started innocently enough. You first used it for a semi-legitimate means (“I literally have not slept in 48 hours”). Then you started putting it in places where it wasn’t really needed (“It’s literally so selfish”) or logical (“It’s literally out of control”). You grew a fondness for the word, used it more and more, until eventually it found its way into every other sentence you were speaking. And now you throw it around so carelessly that you end up inadvertently declaring that you’re mouth is in fact on fire.

But don’t worry. It’s not just you. It’s everyone. The bastardization of this beloved word has run rampant, and no one, including myself, can say they’ve never committed the crime of using it when it wasn’t appropriate.

Now, obviously, I’m not the first or only person to point this out. There’s an entire blog devoted to “tracking the abuse of the word ‘literally.’” Articles have been written. Comics have been drawn…

There was even a joke about it in (500) Days of Summer.

So then… If there are already manys others on the case, why am I writing about it?

Let’s examine the possibilities…

Is it because I consider myself a guardian of the English language, a crusader for the sacred rules governing proper grammar, punctuation, and syntax?

No, not really.

If I say, “How are you?” and you say, “I’m doing good” (as opposed to “I’m doing well”), I don’t particularly give a shit. (I once knew a pedantic English teacher who did particularly give a shit and who would persistently correct students who made this grammatical faux pas. Her footwear consisted solely of knee-high snake-skin boots; her face resembled that of a deep-sea light-bulb fish; and after school, while correcting papers in her classroom, she could be heard blasting System Of A Down. I aspire not to be like this woman.) I still mix up “lay” vs. “lie.” I’m inclined to shamelessly split infinitives. And ending a sentence with a preposition is not something I take issue with.

Is it because this “literally” problem is a recent development? A new and urgent crisis?

I used to think so. But apparently this shit has been going on since the 19th century and can even be found in literary classics like Tom Sawyer and Little Women. Still, I honestly feel like it’s gotten especially bad over the past five to ten years. Then again, maybe I’ve just grown older and been exposed to more idiots.

Is it because the Literally Abusers sound like idiots?

Yes, indeed.

My reasoning for adopting some modern idioms and alterations in the English language and rejecting others may seem arbitrary, but I’ve decided it’s all based on one question: Will I sound stupid?

The answer generally boils down to popular usage, majority rules, and my perception of what is accepted. A few examples:

1) “Irregardless” — Nope. Not a word. And we don’t need it. We already have a better word that’s two letters shorter. General consensus: Stupid. Avoid.

2) “Hopefully” — According to the language sticklers, “hopefully” means “in a hopeful manner” and is meant to modify a verb, as in “Sally looked hopefully up at Santa Clause.” But, fuck it. I use it to mean “with any luck” or “I hope” and modify whole sentences with it: “Hopefully, this isn’t boring you yet.” You comprehend what I’m saying. It’s a convenient usage. Everybody does it. It makes sense.  Consensus: Not Stupid. Go for it. (The same thing goes for “fortunately” and “honestly”)

3) “Forte” — This shit is gonna blow your mind. “Forte,” when used to mean “strong point,” is pronounced “fort” (one syllable, ignore the “e”). But NOBODY does this. And if you do, you’ll sound like a nimrod, or a pretentious snob, depending on whom you’re talking to. Consensus: “right” way = stupid; “wrong” way = accepted. Keep abusing.

4) “Literally” — Consensus: At this point, I’m afraid to ask. Personal opinion: STUPID. STUPID. STUPID. STUPID. STUPID.

Can I elaborate?

Yes. Here’s the problem:

It’s not merely that the word is being misused. Words are misused all the time. (There was a period in the 9th grade when I used “eloquent” and “elegant” interchangeably and ended up telling stories of very well-spoken chandeliers.) It’s that the context in which the word is being misused is the same as that for which it is best suited.

It’s like starting the world’s greatest quarterback in the Super Bowl and having him throw the ball out of bounds.

The best, ideal, most opportune time to use the word “literally” is when you’re informing me of something that’s hard to believe. The word provides a quick way of assuring me that what you’re saying is indeed factual, no matter how absurd or hyperbolic it may sound.

“I literally farted for 20 seconds straight.”

This is great. I now know that 20 seconds is not an exaggeration. I will proceed to congratulate you on your accomplishment and promptly evacuate the premises.

What’s even better is when the word can be applied to a common figure of speech. Such expressions are inherently far-fetched and preposterous and so to hear an instance of one in real life—to hear that a figurative fable has become literal—is quite exciting (even mind-boggling!)

“I was trying to fold the laundry, and my son kept blabbering about his new blog. He wouldn’t shut his mouth, so I literally put a sock in it.”

Delightful! I am pleased to have learned this information and to have heard it presented in such a clever way. Thank you Mrs. Mohel!

This is the linguistic candy for which “literally” was made. But I hear statements like this all the time and rarely do they turn out to be truthful. It’s such a tease. You tell me that “Susan literally had a frog in her throat”—I am immediately eager to hear this tale. Was it a biology dissection gone wrong? Was it at an exotic restaurant? Pray tell!! [truth revealed] Oh…. Oh, Ok. I see… No, that’s alright… You’re just a liar.

Wow. Is there anything else?

Why yes. In addition to all this, the epidemic of misuse is giving the word a secondary definition that’s the polar opposite of its true definition. It’s engendering a contradiction that undermines the word’s utility and might eventually render it worthless, vague in its meaning or else as confusing in its ambiguity as “bi-weekly.” Granted, other words have suffered this same dueling-definition fate (e.g. look up “peruse”). But “literally”—as it is so widely used and without a satisfying synonym to replace it—is infinitely more valuable to the English language than any of its bastardized brethren (least of all “peruse”) ever were.

So this “literally” calamity is somehow different, more important, than all those other linguistic transgressions?

Yes. I’ve convinced myself that it is. I have to believe that it’s different in order to vindicate my obsession.

But… alas, I can’t help but wonder if maybe it’s just like all the others….

This obviously isn’t the first time that a word has deviated from its original meaning and taken on a new common usage. Our language is constantly evolving in accord with the impulses of a society that uses, changes, and invents words as it sees fit.

I’ve now spent close to 1500 words bitching about “literally.” But the same thing happened to the word “really.” Not too long ago, “really” meant “in reality; actually ” and served a similar function as “literally” (when used correctly). Now we kick it around like a hacky sack at middle-school recess:

“I’m really hungry.”

Why do we do this? Do we mean to say, “I’m in reality hungry,” as if people wouldn’t believe the validity of our assertion—that we were in fact hungry—without the qualifier? No, we mean to say, “I’m very hungry.”  But maybe the real question is: Why don’t we just say, “I’m hungry”?

It’s because “I’m hungry” just isn’t enough. We need to say more!!! And so we throw on words we don’t need and give them meanings they don’t have, all in an effort to paint our chatter with the luster of significance. We use “really” and “very” and “actually” for the same reason that we misuse the word “literally” or use caps lock or italics or bold font or exclamation points:


Because we need to. We need emphasizers to make our sentences seem interesting, to convince our audience and ourselves that what we’re saying is actually worth saying, that our thoughts are actually worth thinking, and that, ultimately, our lives are worth living.

This is why words like “phenomenal,” “fantastic,” “amazing,” “awesome,” and “incredible” have all strayed from their literal definitions to serve as nebulous exclamations of approval, dime-a-dozen synonyms for “interesting” and “exciting” —because we want so badly to be “interesting” and “exciting.”

This is why blogs exist, why Twitter succeeded, and in part why I’m writing this: We live with an irrepressible urge to share our thoughts and our experiences with others. And without adding that flash and glitter—that all-important emphasis—we fear what we have to say won’t be appreciated. And what’s more, we fear what this lack of appreciation, in turn, might say about us.

In this respect, I’m just as guilty as the next guy. But I’m not proposing that we stop trying to make our thoughts seem worthwhile. I’m only suggesting that we find a way to do so without affirming the truth of outlandish claims—without taking a great word and violating it in the ass with a rusty, serrated, Godzilla-sized, pink-sock-inducing dildo.*


*Figuratively speaking