1. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    Question regarding the word "literally"

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by marina, Sep 11, 2008.

    Tonight on my way home from karate class, I'm listening to the news on the radio, and a reporter is talking about some latest government scandal...something about government employees receiving money and gifts from oil companies. He states that the workers were in bed with the oil companies, literally.

    Isn't his use of the word "literally" incorrect? I'm thinking that if you take "in bed with" literally, it means that the workers were lying in a bed--you know, an actual mattress, bed sheets, comforter--with executives from oil businesses. Eww, and, that must be one big bed.

    Am I correct, though? It seems that a lot of people use that word incorrectly. What they really mean is figuratively or metaphorically, but not literally.
     
  2. Iaevich
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    Iaevich Member

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    You're right, but it's been used incorrectly for a very long time. People often use it to accentuate the meaning of what they're saying, even if it's not correct in the conventional sense.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    As Iaevitch said, you are completely correct. I strongly suggest you never use news programs, or even high end newspapers and periodicals, as examples for correct English usage. Although these are the people who should certainly know better, they are often appallingly bad.
     
  4. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Seems right to me. The phrase in bed with the oil companies could mean they are working together. Like he was in bed with his teacher, meaning he is getting special treatment of some sort. By saying they were in bed with the oil companies, literally, it helps me understand that he means they are having sex with them, rather than getting special treatment. I am not sure what other word you could use besides literally to get that point across.

    They were laying in bed with the oil company, figuratively. This would imply that he means you to understand that laying in bed with does not mean sex, but that they are working closely together, cheating, getting special treatment. If you end it with metaphorically then the same is true.

    So my question is, what word besides literally at the end of that statement would let us know they are having sex with them? I understand that if we literally read the sentence with out understanding what the guy is saying, it means they are in bed with the oil companies, which makes no literal sense.
     
  5. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would have to say that this is probably my biggest grammatical pet peeve. Fortunately I haven't been subjucted to it's awfulness recently. My condolences.
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I am not normally a prescriptive grammarian, but in this case I would shudder at the usage you have mentioned. It irks me because it takes an extremely useful term and muddles its capacity to describe the difference between a literal and a figurative description. It forces one to have to ask the ridiculously redundant question, “Do they mean literally literally, or do they mean figuratively literally?” And that is just plain twitch inducing.
     
  7. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's not right because they aren't talking about people sleeping with oil company executives
     
  8. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I honestly don't see why the phrase bugs people, the way this person used it. It seems to me he/she didn't wish to out right say, they are having sex with the people in the oil company, because that would not come off as a joke, but down right serious.

    I think the person was alluding to them sleeping with bosses, or whatever, to strengthen business relationships. Honestly I am unsure how else the person could say it, and for it to mean exactly what they intended it to mean. I can also understand just how confusing this would be for someone who's first language is not English. This sort of thing must drive them nuts when trying to learn English. Even after 10 years of study.

    I found this sort of play on words humorous, and I think that was the intended reason for him/her saying it.

    Bin Laden was in bed with the C.I.A. This would be a true statement, refuring to how the C.I.A gave Bin Laden weapons and training.

    Bin Laden was in bed with the C.I.A, literally. This would allude to the fact he slept with someone in the C.I.A in order to get those weapons.

    At least this is how I have heard it used, and I find the humor in it.
     
  9. Keth Andril
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    Keth Andril Member

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    Actually, I think the reporter might have been referring to this story; http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26644351/

    If this is the case, then the word 'literally' was used correctly.
     
  10. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Keith that is what I am trying to say, but the word is still not used properly, but we undersand what it means.

    If they are literally in bed with oil companies, well you cannot literally be in bed with the oil company, but with people in the company.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Most people do not understand the correct meaning. It has been used incorrectly so frequently that most people believe it is merely a word to use for strong emphasis.

    "I was literally beside myself!"

    I want photographic evidence.
     
  12. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Cog yeah that is true. I just noticed you got major green badges.
     
  13. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yes he does! :D

    And there is no small amount of irony in the fact that we are auguring the befuddlement of the meaning of a word whose sole purpose is to un-befuddle analogies and metaphors from actual events.
     
  14. Acglaphotis
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    Acglaphotis Contributing Member

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    That just negates the whole meaning of the word. When you say literally just after saying "Bin Laden was in bed with the C.I.A" it's supposed to mean he was, negating any metaphorical sense. If it was "Bin Laden was in bed with someone in the C.I.A, literally" then the use of the word is justified because the previous statement was possible. Sorry, but it's the only word that gets to me when misused...

    PS:What is the purpose of the green badges?
     
  15. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    I spoke with one of my teachers about this, and he said the word has been used figuratively in some of the great classics such as The Great Gatsby. :eek:

    If it's true, then I'm very disappointed in F. Scott Fitzgerald! :p
     
  16. thejakeman
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    thejakeman New Member

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    I take the usage of literally in the example you provided to simply be an example of exaggeration language. Common vernacular rarely has any association with logical grammar patterns.

    what i be sayin is, i be understanding that word you said to be street style speaking. most street style joints ain't got nuttin to do with dem eggheads in dem cawleges. we be speakin from the soul an so on and so forth and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
     
  17. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Haha, I heard that, cool cat.

    As far as using literally in the context of my Bin Laden quote in a novel, I wouldn't do it, unless it was a character talking, but even then I doubt I would do it.

    I guess it is not one of my pet peeves. One thing I do hate seeing, is when people use then, when they mean than.
     
  18. Delcelia
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    Delcelia New Member

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    I guess I am agreeing with thejakeman's post. The thing is, in all honesty, the "Bin Laden was literally in bed with the CIA" example is a lovely example of
    1. How everyone knows a better synonym for "literally" (implying they know exactly what the speaker was TRYING to say)
    2. Even though there have been two distinct meanings (literal and metaphorical, in their senses as interpreted in writing) discussed here, if someone mentioned this in conversation, while the more astute of us might correct it, I don't think anyone would be actually confused by it, or have any meaningful doubt as to whether they were making an allegation of highly unlikely sexual relations or just reiterating a commonly (uncommonly?) held belief.

    Some might argue that this is because of "CIA" being a non-personal item, rather than that "literally" is starting to be understood to be a generic intensifier applicable to both literal and metaphoric situations (which is what I think).

    Some more examples: "He literally went purple from embarrassment." - In everyday conversation, you know exactly what the person is saying, and even if you corrected it (unlikely in this case) it wouldn't affect your understanding of what they were saying.
    "I was soooo hungry, I literally inhaled the whole pizza," - Again, you would have no trouble understanding what was being said. If you did get confused your reaction should have been instant concern, due to us all knowing that food aspiration puts us at risk of serious respiratory illness.

    Such is the nature of language change! As a very general observation of Latin and its successors such as English or French, words tend to dilute their meaning, and when their meaning becomes not intense enough to express the level of exaggeration they wanted, speakers need to look for new ones. And yes, I realise I am talking about a conversational context, not a written one, - but by and large, writing cultures tend to write down what it is that they say, after all!

    Totally, chronically, literally, practically, seriously, completely, utterly, absolutely, actually... these adverbs have all changed from their original meanings (which you sometimes still see in their adjectival form - absolute, actual, literal, chronic) to take a relatively ordinary position in place of "really" or "in fact." Over time, I think these will all become dilute as well (as they are probably in the process of doing) and be replaced by new ones.

    After all, we don't say "I'm simply charmed, Alfred" anymore in an exaggerative sense - we think that's way too 60s for us.
     
  19. kehl
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    kehl Member

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    It was used correctly. Think about it: "He was having sex with the oil companies, literally!" That doesn't make much sense now does it, well it does, but the use of the word is redundant. There would be no point in even using the word if the implication was already literal. That would just be redundant...literally.

    Edit: Wait, now that I think of it... saying "He was literally having sex with the oil companies" would denote any euphemism.
     
  20. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    and that's why I say "no" to drugs...
     
  21. stoned4assassin20
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    stoned4assassin20 Member

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    I never realized the word "literally" was such a divisive issue.
     
  22. TheAdlerian
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    TheAdlerian Senior Member

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    Guys,

    The story was literally about sex with oil company execs, money, and whatever else. Female members of companies were whoring themselves out to close deals.

    Unethical?

    Yes.

    Unmotivated?

    No.
     
  23. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Reputation indicators.
     
  24. BillyxRansom
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    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    Yeah, but "literal" has a definitive meaning, and it is a travesty every time it is even used so much as slightly inaccurately. It is a gross perversion of the English language, because the word literally has one meaning. One. Not even one and a half. Just one. Literally. One.

    :)
     
  25. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    I found an article written by the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. He cites numerous examples from great classics where the author uses literally in a figurative sense:
    Evidently, it's only been recently that the use/misuse of the word has come under fire. I love how Ambrose Bierce put it:
    But the article points out that those of us who cringe when we hear someone say literally instead of figuratively or metaphorically, give a pass to the use of the world really even when we're talking about something that isn't real; and he gives other examples:
    Okay, I can accept that some people use the word literally as an intensifier all the while realizing the true definition of the word; however, I have a feeling that a lot of people think literal literally means figuratively--and I mean that literally. :D
     

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