Category Archives: Guardian

As a grammarian contrarian, I love opposites. But what about alternyms?

true snoot in every sense of the made-up word, I’ve always been fascinated by the ways opposites manifest themselves in language.

I remember being a mentally restless third-grader tormented by the fact that one could never truly declare that it’s Opposite Day. Think about it: if it’s Opposite Day, one’s saying so would mean that it’s not; and saying it isn’t would mean that it’s just another ordinary day. (I obviously had no knowledge of infinite regresses at the time.) But recently I’ve wasted much time and energy pondering self-contained opposites in language (ie semantic paradoxes; ie contradictio in terminis; ie a category of terms that mean – or are used to mean – two contradictory things). Let’s call them “grammarians’ contrarians”.

Full article on The Guardian

Using ‘literally’ metaphorically is literally spreading like wildfire

remember it like it was literally yesterday. I was sitting on a bench in Central Park nearly four years ago when my ears literally perked up at the egregious and altogether jarring utterance that literally hurt to hear: the misuse of the word “literally”. In this case, the culprits were two high school girls, going on about being “literally soaked from head to toe” by the (light) rainfall that afternoon. I didn’t understand. What did they mean? They were barely wet! What could possibly compel someone to use a word to mean its opposite?

As it turns out, this language misuse has become an all too common trend within modern-day American and British English vernacular. We have grown accustomed to using the word “literally” when we mean “figuratively”, lobbying for added effect while abandoning the precise and strict meaning of the one word whose use is constrained to precise and strict meaning. And we’re doing so at a dangerously fast pace: since 2005, Google searches for “literally” have more than quadrupled, suggesting both a public acceptance of the term however it’s used and a general curiosity about its use (leading search terms include “literally + meaning”, “definition + literally”, and “literally + means”).

Full article on The Guardian