Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Language Corner: Do we misuse the word "literally?"

I hear the word "literally" used by many people around me, and even my fellow English majors use "literally" loosely.

You are not being literal if you are being figurative. In order to place a literal modification on a word, it first has to be a figure of speech before you can put "literally" before or after it.

Robert "Cathaoirtaisce" Scott III, Millennials of New Jersey

From "'Literally" Is Literally Used Wrong, Literally'"

Robert Scott is a  writer on language and linguistics.  He points out that "literally" is properly used before a figure of speech such as "up the creek without a paddle."  If you say "I am literally up the creek without a paddle, he contends, you should mean that you are actually trying to navigate a boat without a paddle.  In the same vein, it is incorrect to say that you "literally ate like a bird" unless you truly ate bird seed.  According to Scott, "literally should mean "a non-exaggerated use of a commonly exaggerated phrase."

To language purists, "literacy" is not a synonym for "really."  It is not a filler.  It loses its true meaning if it is used in the sense of He was literally late for work every day this week..  However, there are those who disagree and don't mind when the word is used more loosely. 

Although Merriam-Webster's first definition of "literally" is "in a literal sense of matter, actually," it has added "virtual, in effect" as the second definition of the word, despite the seeming contradiction. MacMillan Dictionary, Cambridge Dictionary and  Google have all followed suit.  It is argued that the "virtual, in effect" meaning of "literally" is not new and that it has been in use since the 18th century. It can be found in the writings  of Mark Twain, James Joyce and others.

To  purists, however. "literally" is not a filler.  The word is deprived of its true meaning if it is used in the sense of He was literally late for work every day this week.  I realize that I am swimming against the tide (not literally, of course), but I tend to side with the purists.  I am well aware that language is not static, that it it changes constantly.  However, I take no pleasure in seeing a word lose its meaning just because it is used incorrectly by a celebrity or on a television sitcom.  When too many boundaries are broken, language declines.  It is debased.

- Joanne

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Reflections at Easter 2022


Christ is risen. Hallelujah! May the miracle of Easter bring you renewed hope, faith, love, and joy.

The year 2022, marks a rare confluence of the Christian celebration of Easter, the Jewish Passover festival and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.  During this time, followers of these three great Abrahamic faiths will be worshiping the same God in their own special way.

For Christians, Easter falls on April 17th, 2022.  For Jews, Passover begins at sunset on Friday, April 15th (Good Friday for Christians).  It ends on Saturday, April 23rd at sunset.  For Muslims, Ramadan,  the nineth month of the Islamic year, is a holy month of prayer, fasting and refection, This year,  Ramadan falls at the beginning of April and ends at the beginning of May.  It culminates in the celebration of Eid-al-Foitr, "the festival of the breaking of the fast."

The Holy City, Jerusalem is sacred to all three of these great monotheistic faiths.  Sadly, the Middle East has long been a  source of conflict over land and holy sites.  For far too often, Christians, Jews and Muslims have been locked in bitter disputes, spurred by extremists and fanatics on n all sides.  Those who consider themselves "true believers" and regard others of a different faith as "infidels" or "apostates" pose the most serious threat to peace.

We are going through a most difficult epoch in world history, the most difficult time since World War II.  Humanity faces enormous challenges.  We have suffered through more than two years of a nightmarish pandemic. Russia has invaded Ukraine and has violated human rights and cruelly killed innocent civilians.  War crimes have been committed.  Far right authoritarianism seems to be rising around the globe.

This year, as Christians, Jews and Muslims hold their holy festivals at the same time, the faithful should emphasize their commonality, not their differences.  There is so much hatred and suffering in this world.  It does not behoove the followers of Christ, Moses and Muhammad to add to this.  It is against every major tenet of these three great faiths to contribute to all this anguish and adversity.

Christians, Jews and Muslims are all children of Abraham and they all worship one God.  This should never be forgotten.  Christians, for their part, should always remember that Jesus was Jewish,  This Easter, I wish blessings upon my Jewish and Muslim friends in faith and to all believers and non-believers alike..


On April 5, 2019, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned in a devastating fire, just before Easter, which was celebrated on April 21st that year.  It's been more than three years since that fire,  I'm pleased to report that the cathedral has been saved and there has been a great deal of progress in restoring this great historical edifice.  The good news is that plans are underway to reopen the cathedral in the summer of 2024, just before the Olympics are held in Paris.

- Joanne