Profesor de Inglés, fascinado con los idiomas, especialmente inglés y castellano. Cualquier cosa que me interese, voy a poner acá, en inglés o castellano.
I was devastatingly outsmarted by one of my students at the beginning of the week. I discovered that, as well as the English cognate alfabeto, Spanish also has abecedario to refer to its writing system. This seemed to me, although admittedly a rather hasty judgement, ridiculously simplistic. ‘Abecedario!’ I scoffed to my top set IGCSE group. ‘That’s like when you’re in primary school and you learn your “ABC.”’ It was quickly pointed out by one particular smartarse in the class that, of course, the alternative, supposedly superior word, alfabeto, comes from the initial letters of the Greek alphabet. I was abruptly brought down from my high horse, cursorily acknowledged that he was too smart for me and moved on swiftly.
To be honest, I did not mind being outsmarted. It almost felt good. I think it’s good to have yourself brought down a peg or two once in a while. Your students need to know that you’re fallible.
I had honestly never even thought about alphabet and its etymology, despite its being so obvious once pointed out. I find that there are many phrases and words that I take for granted, never having analysed them, when suddenly a new significance will emerge and it will be as a revelation.
This naturally started to happen much more once I started to learn Spanish. Just the other day it happened with immediate. Of course it most commonly means right now; without delay, but its true etymology is more without an intermediary agent, i.e. with no middle man. I nearly cried out when that realisation occured to me.
The fantastic website The Oatmeal has this poster about the use of “literally”. Now, I understand the idea: if you say, for example, “I literally exploded with rage” the use of “literally” is indicating that you are in actual fact exploding, which is patently contrary to fact.
I cannot help but take umbrage with people’s problem with this usage. Ignoring the word “literally”, you are still saying that you “exploded with rage”, which is still patently contrary to fact. The figurative nature of the usage is obviously implied by the fact that the person with whom you are speaking can clearly see that you are still quite intact. So too with the use of “literally”: I would argue that it is being used to exaggerate the sentence to an admittedly absurd but quite justifiable level. However, as with the sentence without “literally”, it is clearly implied that you have not exploded.
Why does the anti-“literally” brigade assume that by merely removing the “literally” the sentence becomes clearly figurative? If their argument was legitimate, then it would follow that you should necessarily have to include a “figuratively” to any figurative English construction, just to ensure that nobody had mistakenly taken what you said literally.
I would argue that this has more to do with people’s annoyance at the overuse of the word. I have to confess that the people who tend to say it do tend to use it a lot and often turn out to be idiots. But there are huge numbers of words and expressions that people these days tend to overuse: “actually” comes to mind. There seems to me to be no logical justification for the anger that “literally” causes. And man do they get angry: I’ve witnessed some literally exploding with rage.