Pitfall #11: Literal v. Figurative

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McIntyre’s First Law:

Under the right circumstances, anything I tell you could be wrong.

Pitfall #11:
Literal v. Figurative,
“His Head Literally…


“Figuratively” means that you are speaking metaphorically or symbolically. “Literally” means that you are speaking with precision and realism, that you are saying what exactly happened. “Literally” is not a generic intensifier. If you are talking about someone’s headache, “figuratively exploded” is the phrase you’re looking for — at least in comparison to “literally exploded.”

– Vonda

Read the previous Pitfalls

I blog here every Sunday, and irregularly otherwise as the spirit takes me. You can find some of my science fiction at the Book View Cafe website.

Coming in September: Superluminal.

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At Book View Cafe you can also find The Moon and the Sun, as well as the faux-encyclopedia article, “The Natural History and Extinction of the People of the Sea,”  that inspired it.

Featured today on BVC’s front page: “A modest proposal for the perfection of nature,” first published in the science journal Nature.

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Pitfall #11: Literal v. Figurative — 3 Comments

  1. I’m with Rebecca Knight–this is a definite pet peeve of mine, too! To be honest, I don’t think I’ve seen that much of it in professional writing, but I do hear it way more than I should in interviews or during speeches.

    I’m really enjoying this series, Vonda. Keep the great advice coming!

  2. Very glad you’re both enjoying the Pitfalls. They’re a lot of fun to write.

    You’ve got a good point about “literally” being misused a great deal in speech. I’ve seen it with some frequency in print, but I hear it all the time.