There was a time, long ago, when people said what they meant. And no, I don’t just mean that they were truthful or direct, but that folks didn’t rely on verbal crutches to get them through a conversation. They could state matter-of-factly, “It was so hot today. I was sweating through my clothes.” Not, as a Kardashian would say, “It was soooo hot today, I was, like, LITERALLY sweating through my clothes.”
Lately, the word “literally” has lost its meaning due to overuse and just plain wrong use. That poor word…let’s all observe a moment of silence on its behalf. “Literally” is an impactful word. When used correctly, it means “in the strictest sense of the word.” If it’s literally raining cats and dogs, best call the EPA, because global warming has taken a weird turn. If you’ve literally peed your pants laughing, well, that’s a personal problem we can’t address here. How about if you literally flew through the air jumping to make the subway? Well, let’s get Lois Lane on the phone, because she’s going to want to meet you, Clark!
Turned on the TV lately? “Literally” is showing up, well, literally everywhere, especially on reality shows that use real people and not scripted actors. On any given day, one of the Real Housewives will “literally be having The. Worst. Day. Ever.” It’s interesting to ponder just what the worst day ever might entail, but I wouldn’t wish it on anyone (for me, it would mean a bedbug infestation, an emergency plane landing, stomach flu and death.) But for a Real Housewife, it’s more likely to mean the nanny is going to be late and the manicurist is booked for the day.
The proof is, as they say, in the pudding (and not literally, because that would mean the pudding has gone bad). Someone put together a compilation of celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe (who has her own show on the Bravo network) saying “literally” over and over again. Watch and laugh. My favorite is when she says, “We are going to literally have to pull dresses out of our a***es.” WOW – really? Does David Copperfield know you can do this?!
Everything we say is more impactful when we don’t rely on crutch words like “literally,” “like,” “seriously,” or “you know,” which are common crutch words that show up in speech today. Whether conversing with your boss, the media, a prospective employer or the chairman of the board, strip your dialogue to its essential thoughts and you’ll be a more respected communicator.
There is some comfort in knowing that “literally” may be on the cusp of regaining its former dignity. It’s now being parodied and pointed out, like on NBC’s comedy “Parks and Recreation.”
Thank heavens. Because I am literally going to gag next time someone uses the word “literally” the wrong way.