Friday, January 8, 2010

Can we start using "literally"... literally?

The CBS Evening News is apparently doing a feature this week on "Where America Stands," in case you're interested in that sort of thing. I just read a transcript of last night's segment, introduced by Katie Couric and narrated by national security correspondent David Martin. In the opening for what seems otherwise to be a pretty solid feature -- Martin goes to Fort Monroe and talks to Mike Vane and H.R. McMaster, senior leaders at the U.S. Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) -- our intrepid correspondent said this:
If one moment could capture the unexpected trauma of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this would be it. American soldiers hit by a roadside bomb. [Apparently they were showing a clip of an IED attack.] Something as simple as a homemade booby trap literally blew up America’s plan for quick and easy victories.
Literally? Really? A homemade booby trap exploded and destroyed either the physical or conceptual war plan? Like, those dudes had a copy of "America's plan for quick and easy victories" in their vehicle and it was incinerated when the IED was detonated?

It literally makes my head explode when I see language used in this way. Wait, no it doesn't. "Makes my head explode" is just a colorful expression, a symbolic representation, a metaphor for my frustration.

(Before you say it, yes, I know that Joe Biden is literally the biggest abuser of this expression. As in, he is physically the largest person who says this. Literally.)


  1. Oh come on. You know what they're talking about. The IED was/is the means for how the bad guys forced us to go from enemy-centric, conventional warfare to population-centric, counterinsurgency. A patrol circa 2004 gets hit with an IED in some Baghdad neighborhood, the narrative goes. The patrol rounds up every male on the block, thinking they were all complicit. The patrol doesn't get any information from their detainees; rather they're all pissed off now because they had nothing to do with the attack, hence 20 more dudes who are sympathetic to those emplacing the IEDs. The cycle repeats itself over and over again. We finally realized you can't burn the village to save it. We set up JSS's and COPs in the neighborhoods, protect the people, link up with the SOI's, pay out some micro-grants, train up the local police, etc. Quick and easy victories no more.

    Yea, this is a crude narrative, but it explains what the CBS story is saying. I'm surprised you are hung up on their use of "literally" because it's true!

  2. You're right, I DO know what they're talking about. But I'm "hung up" on use of that word because it is factually and linguistically incorrect.

    This post isn't about whether or not IEDs helped to change the Army -- this is obviously true. The post is about people using the word "literally" when it is literally senseless to do so.

  3. Let's be clear. Gulliver is literally correct.

  4. I can say with some experience that when VP Biden says "literally," he usually, and quite literally, means it.

    He's an emphatic personality. He's also really, really nice.

    So quit effing with Biden.


  5. Well that's fine and all, SNLII, but whether or not he means it, he's using it incorrectly. It's verbal tic.

  6. I should say "It's a verbal tic."

  7. I am literally Rolling On the Floor Laughing. I needed this post this morning.

  8. This doesn't surprise me. The only time that I ever see any television news (literally) is when I am at my parents' home during a holiday. What passes for serious news is so stupid that it forces me to hate the people who produce the programs, even though I have no idea who most of them are.