Friday, July 25, 2008


Probably one of my worst language-related pet peeves is the misuse of the word “literally.” When people say things like “I literally exploded!” I get pretty excited waiting for the story of how they put all their atoms and molecules back together after being blown to a million bits. I suppose I am a bit sadistic. But seriously, let’s look at the definition for “literal”—1 a: according with the letter of the scriptures b: adhering to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression : actual literal sense is impossible — B. N. Cardozo> c: free from exaggeration or embellishment literal truth> d: characterized by a concern mainly with facts literal man>

So you see, it just doesn’t make any sense to say, “I wanted to literally crack my head open like an egg.” However, it would make sense to say “I literally wanted to crack my head open like an egg.” See the difference? I really did want to – it was my actual, factual desire in that moment. I’ll tell you the story, as soon as that guy tells me how he got his molecules back in order.

Imagine my consternation then, when I read the second definition for “literally” from Merriam Webster: 2 : in effect : virtually literally turn the world upside down to combat cruelty or injustice — Norman Cousins> WHAT!?! and yes, that is deserving of two exclamation points and a question mark, italics and bolding. I mean WHAT!?! why in the world should a word have two meanings that are in exact opposition to each other? It very much angers me. They say that it is used in a hyperbolic sense, but I think that people really just have no idea what it means when they say they are literally hungry enough to eat an elephant. You are not that hungry. I know that. …Literally.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

O.K., o.k., Okay, OK, or okay?

So I learned something interesting. And by interesting I mean interesting to me because I'm a geeky editor who loves words. I've always wondered why the heck when I've typed "okay" in the past it sometimes pulls up as a misspelling. Turns out "okay" is not Merriam-Webster's, a.k.a THE dictionary to use, preferred spelling. It lists OK as the spelling for the word that means "all right." So I guess a long time ago OK did not used to mean "all right" as it does today. It is an abbreviation derived from oll korrect, a facetious alteration of all correct. It dates back to 1839. So I think, if I remember correctly, it's an abbreviation that was used on printer's proof to state that everything was OK, i.e. "all correct." Overtime the meaning and usage of the word has changed to mean "all right." But I personally prefer "okay" to OK. OK seems weird to me. How are you feeling today? I'm feeling OK. It just looks weird. And since the usage has changed I don't think it's appropriate to use it as an abbreviation anymore. And please don't add periods. That just makes it even more awkward. As much as I love my M-W, I think we're going to have to agree to disagree. I will forever spell it as okay.