Literally Unique

Misusing the word “unique” bugs me.  Something is either unique or it isn’t.  So you can’t have “pretty unique” or “very unique” or “kinda unique.”  No, unique means only one of it exists.

But that pales next to cloying, annoying, deploring misuse of the the word “literally.”

“I was terrified my boss was literally gonna go for my throat.”  (So your boss is a vampire?)

“I literally died when I got the news.”  (And yet you’re here telling me about it.)

“We spent literally three days in line.  I was literally ready to gnaw my leg off to escape.”  (I’ll fetch a bone saw, if it’ll help.)

“Literally” means “word for word” or “in truth.”  It’s meant to alert the reader or listener that you are NOT using metaphor, hyperbole, or simile.  Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, a handful of people decided that it can be used to add emphasis to any of the above, and the misuse spread like artery-clogging butter. I’ve even heard newscasters misuse the term in this way.  (It was on Fox, but still.)

The overall effect is that anyone who uses the word “literally” for its true function isn’t believed:

“I mean, the accident literally crushed my car.  The paramedics literally pried me out of the wreckage.”

“Uh huh.  Was it really bad?”

“Dude!  I just said they literally had to pry me out.  I was literally bleeding to death.”

“So you probably had a few stitches, huh?  Bummer.”

I’m issuing a clarion call (not literally–I don’t own a clarion): use “unique” properly and use “literally” only when you’re telling the absolute truth.  The language will thank you.

What are your grammar and writing pet peeves?  Post them below and we’ll discuss!

–Steven Harper Piziks

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Literally Unique — 3 Comments

  1. Steve,

    Did you see my rant about Absolutely in the blog above and the flash fiction on the front page?