I am sure the reader (that is, the only one who doesn't just scroll down for the pictures) will have noticed by now that I am quite unhealthily fond of intentionally abusing the word 'literally' for my own amusement. I've been a fan of this for quite some time, but in recent months it has become something of an obsession to listen out for misuses of the word, and also to make mockery by misusing it myself in highly inappropriate contexts. This is, of course, a wonderful and not-atall
-tiresome routine, and one which could fairly be characterised as the greatest form of irreverent semantic satire (an up-and-coming genre, just you watch). I tell you, it's literally a barrell of laughs.
The degree to which the word 'literally' is literally abused is quite astonishing. One of the main reasons for it seems to be that many people incorrectly assume they can use it for emphasis, e.g. 'I am literally fuming about this...'
(to which I would reply: 'Then please excuse me, as I must leave the room so as to avoid any lasting respiratory damage.'
) As the word is most commonly abused verbally, many of my favourite examples of its misuse have been provided while watching television. For example, during an episode of the latest series of capitalist CockneyTV
series The Apprentice
, I was stunned to hear one of the contestants Claire, 29, talking about her imminent appearance in the boardroom. "I can literally feel the guillotine inches from my neck"
, she claimed dubiously. This is wrong on SO MANY COUNTS (specifically two). (1) One, there wasn't a guillotine in sight, sadly, and (2) Two, even if there was, if it was inches away from her neck she would certainly not be able to feel it. In my experience, a guillotine is not truly felt until it slices into the skin on the neck and blood starts to spurt out like the juice when someone bites sharply into an over-ripe tomato (great fun).
One of the best examples I've heard about, but sadly didn't witness myself, is Question of Sport
captain and silly-sport-rugby's Matt Dawson's contention that he was going to "literally grab the bull by the horns"
by answering a question on the programme's picture round. Indeed, dim sportsmen are prime candidates for this crime, and it was one such dim sportsman who inspired this post. Just over a week ago, during ITV's coverage of Euro2008
, pundit and ex-Boro captain Andy Townsend, 44, literally came out with the most blind and ill-conceived use of the word 'literally' I've heard. While describing the Turkish defence's tight marking of the Czech Republic's strikers, he said: "Look there... Servet [a Turkish defender] is literally, literally up his backside."
As soon as I heard him say 'literally' twice, I knew he was in trouble, but I still didn't think he could get it quite so wrong. Surely ensconcing oneself within an opponent's rectal passage would constitute a foul in the modern game? You might have got away with it twenty years ago, but not today; especially not with these soft European referees who blow their whistle if you so much as tickle someone's chin. I was literally laughing my socks off. So next time I buy socks I'll make sure I get some with well-elasticised ankle grips, to make sure that won't happen again.