Saturday, 18 January 2014

Literally?

Here are some recent  Facebook comments from two of my younger friends in Pittsfield, MA.

One could not sleep. She wrote:

"R.I.P to my sleep schedule. I can literally feel the bags under my eyes growing darker."

The other was under great stress.  She wrote:

"I am quite literally at the end of my rope."

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I hope that the first friend could not feel actual bags under her eyes.  I trust that the second friend was not at the end of any rope.

The first friend meant "Figuratively speaking there are bags under my eyes"

The second friend meant "Figuratively speaking I am at the end of my rope"

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But of course very few English speaking people would  say "Figuratively speaking"  at the beginning of such statements. It sounds rather awkward

English speaking people should say "There are bags under my eyes"  or "I am at the end of my rope".
Those statements would be well understood as figures of speech.

But my younger friends add the un-necessary literally.

I suspect that they do so in order to add weight or emphasis to what they are saying. If that is the case they should be forgiven!

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The Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary offers the following as a way of understanding and using "literally" and "figuratively",

He's a sailor who knows his ropes, literally and figuratively.

Makes sense to me!

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