Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The mind literally boggles

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.

18 Comments:

Anonymous Top Boy (and that) said...

Having just read your excellent, erm, column (waheeey TOP BOYS FFS TBF!!!1111!)I'm sat at work trying to think of witty uses of the word "literally". Unfortunately, my mind has literally drawn a blank. I'll be back when I have thought of a hilarious one that will have all readers literally rolling around the aisles.

Instead I shall amuse myself with my work colleague (I don't mean it like that - quiet at the back) who has an uncanny knack of getting everyday cliches completely wrong. Already this year I have heard such pearls as "when crunch comes to crunch" and "when all said and said it's a game of two thirds" (that one might be mine).

June 26, 2008 10:15 am  
Blogger Paddy said...

Well, when it comes to the shove, it's your neck on the block at the start of the day. When all's dusted and said, it's not my problem if you're left literally clutching at straws to post a comment.

June 26, 2008 12:44 pm  
Blogger Dan said...

I heard a woman outside a pub say "I literally hate red wine" the other day, which I really liked.

June 26, 2008 2:43 pm  
Anonymous Top Boy (and that) said...

I hope you glassed her...literally

June 27, 2008 9:33 am  
Blogger Paddy said...

Yeah, you should've literally filled her in.

You could've used Polyfilla, or indeed any generic filling product, using a wet, rounded spatula to ensure a smooth, clean finish.

June 27, 2008 12:39 pm  
Anonymous Top Boy (and that) said...

I suppose that literally glassing someone would mean trying to force them into a glass surround or casing.

One way that I reckon could work would be to collapse the person in question, tie pieces of string to them before squeezing them into a bottle. You could then pull the strings tight and produce your perfectly glassed person.

June 27, 2008 2:12 pm  
Anonymous Top Boy (and that) said...

I suppose that literally glassing someone would mean trying to force them into a glass surround or casing.

One way that I reckon could work would be to collapse the person in question, tie pieces of string to them before squeezing them into a bottle. You could then pull the strings tight and produce your perfectly glassed person.

June 27, 2008 2:12 pm  
Blogger Tom said...

Top Boys! A quick question, literally about your blog post Paddy: did any of Andy Townsend's colleagues even titter at his 'backside' comment? It has to be one of the most egregious uses of 'literally' I have heard. And that is literally saying something. You should send it in to Private Eye's Colemanballs section.

June 29, 2008 5:14 pm  
Blogger Paddy said...

No Tom, there wasn't so much as a titter or even a raised eyebrow in the studio. Disgraceful scenes. However I am informed that he is named and shamed in Colemanballs in the latest edition of Private Eye, most probably as a direct result of this blog post.

He came out with another one last night after the highlights of the final: "Look at Torres there, literally coasting past the defenders." While 'to coast' is a relatively straightforward verb, this is still funny because I don't know how you could say someone is literally coasting. It makes me want to picture Liverpool's Fernando Torres, 24, sailing very close to the Austro-Swiss coastline in a small boat.

June 30, 2008 8:48 am  
Anonymous Top Boy (and that) said...

Maybe he (Liverpoolsfernando Torres) was just running around with his clutch permanently in...

June 30, 2008 3:40 pm  
Blogger Paddy said...

"Andy Murray literally had to bend over backwards yesterday to achieve a famous victory at Wimbledon..." according to Krishnan Guru-Murthy, 38, of Channel 4 News and, more notably, once of Newsround. This has been reported by Flatmate Anna. He's literally cocked that one up.

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