‘Literal meaning’ is an oxymoron

David Bellos’s 2011 book Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: The Amazing Adventure of Translation is full of delights and insights not just about the history and phenomenon of translation but about communication, language, and culture more generally.

In a chapter on what Bellos calls the myth of literal translation, he points out that the word literal is sometimes used ‘to say something about the way an expression is supposed to be understood’. This applies to the word literal itself, and thus to the perennial nontroversy over literally which centres on the claim that it should always and only be used ‘literally’. The claim is flawed on several levels.

david bellos - is that a fish in your ear - the amazing adventure of translation - Penguin UK book coverMany critics say, erroneously, that literally is used to mean ‘figuratively’ and that this is terrible. But that’s not how it’s being used: rather, literally is used to intensify things, which may be (and often are) figurative. I’ll skip over that whole debate here, because I’ve already written about how literally has been used non-literally for literally centuries (and by the likes of Nabokov, Joyce, Brontë, and Dickens).

That post quotes lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower saying that because literally means something like ‘according to the letter’, when we use the word in connection with anything else – such as whole words or thoughts – ‘we are already walking down the figurative path’. Bellos expands upon this point:

‘Literal’ is an adjective formed from the noun littera, meaning ‘letter’ in Latin. A letter in this sense is a written sign that belongs to a set of signs some subsets of which can be used to communicate meanings. Speech communicates meaning, writing communicates meaning – but letters on their own do not have any meaning. That’s what a letter is – a sign that is meaningless except when used as part of a string. The expression ‘literal meaning’, taken literally, is a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron and a nonsense.

What we probably meant in the distant past when we asserted that something was ‘literally true’ in order to emphasize that it was really true, true to a higher degree than just being true, was that it was among those rare things that were worthy of being ‘put into letters’, of being written down. All the uses of ‘literal’ with respect to meaning and translation implicitly value writtenness more highly than oral speech. They are now among the surviving linguistic traces of the fantastic change in social and cultural hierarchies that the invention of writing brought about.

It’s a nice idea, and to me a credible one, that this use of literally arose to indicate that something was worth committing to script, and that the contemporary hyperbolic use is a shadow of that great cultural and technological innovation.

Words often follow a gradual path from the concrete to the abstract, hence James Geary’s line that metaphor lives a secret life all around us. In the case of literally its meaning draws more attention to the drift, especially, incongruously, when it’s used ‘improperly’ to lend stress rather than ‘properly’ to underline semantic accuracy.

But the etymology of literal shows the double standard of berating people for using literally as an intensifier instead of using it ‘literally’. Because unless you’re using it to refer specifically to letters, then you’ve already strayed from its strictly literal sense. Chances are we all have.

So the next time someone argues pedantically about the literal meaning of something, ask them what they mean, literally, when they say literal meaning.


44 Responses to ‘Literal meaning’ is an oxymoron

  1. some letters have, uh, literal meaning (?). It depends on context, right? In chemistry, C means carbon, O means oxygen. In other contexts, their literal meanings could change (in school, for example, C means sub-par work, and in medicine, O is a blood type). Maybe I’m just not getting the drift of this post.
    However, when people use “literally” to mean “figuratively,” that is just ridiculous BS. It is one thing to say you walked 50 miles to the nearest gas station, figuratively. It is quite another to say that you literally walked 50 miles to the nearest gas station. In the first example you would be annoyed or irritated and perhaps rolling your eyes at the lack of amenities in the boonies compared to the city. In the second example, you’d be sweaty and tired, possibly half-starved and likely a day or two late for whatever event you were driving to.

  2. Stuart Brown says:

    I think, thebluebird11, you are somewhat missing the point. The point is that the meaning of words develops and changes, and to insist upon their use based on your understanding of their etymology is closer to ridiculous. Do you refuse to go to screenings of films because screen originally means to block or obscure? Do you think that Scots come from Ireland? Do you think that dunces are, like their eponym Duns Scotus, really rather clever chaps?

    Word meanings change, sometimes to the express opposite of their origin. Sometimes both meanings coexist, and we are smart enough to work out from the context what is meant (“I screened my child’s eyes from the violent film being screened”). In the case of “literally” you cannot even find that this is confusing because it is a new use; it is over 150 years old.


    • Hmm, well I didn’t get that the use of literally to mean figuratively was being defended here. In that case, I will just take refuge in being an old codger who will not change (even tho I’m in my 50s). I don’t mind that words take on new meanings over time, even as they co-exist with the old ones (sometimes bad is good, right?) but at other times, it’s just plain annoying, as if people stupidly gave the word new meaning, because they didn’t understand the old meaning. It is like my 20-something daughter who things “sick” means good. Well, to me sick is bad, and in no way would it have a good connotation, so I’m sticking to using it to mean, you know, ill or crazy (in a bad way). I just need to do a quick mental 180 when I hear it out of her mouth, that’s all. OTOH, when my half-literate neighbor, who pronounces our neighborhood of “Wyndham” as “Windenham,” misuses “literally” to mean anything BUT literally, and mispronounces it as “literately” to boot, I am going to feel annoyed, so please don’t deprive me of the right to grit my teeth!

      • Stuart Brown says:

        Well, personally I love linguistic innovation: I think it shows creativity, imagination, and all the things people usually decry the absence of in the youthful generation. I’d also suggest that, whatever your age, when you were young you had an innovative vocabulary precisely to differentiate yourselves from the codgers and the crusties. To deny that right to the current generation seems a little unfair.

        That isn’t to say you have to understand all the changes – I still get bemused with my 13 year old nephew occasionally. But it’s a short step from “I don’t understand this” to “You must speak like me,” and I’m no fan of that kind of linguistic prescriptivism. After all, isn’t Shakespeare often lauded for the number of words he (supposedly) added to the English language? In the case of literally, especially, prescriptivist assertions are on rather thin ground because, as noted in the original post, the offending use of it is over 150 years old.

        Negotiating different registers/dialects/in-group vocabularies is one of the challenges of the modern, interlinked world. As I say, non-comprehension is fine, but it would be a very dull world if we all spoke in exactly the same manner.

        • Oh, don’t misunderstand me; I’m all for linguistic innovation, different dialects and teen-speak. I will venture to say, however, that except for some over-use of certain words (“really”), my teen language was not much different from what the adults of that time spoke. I do not remember ever having to enlighten my mother or her friends as to what I meant by something, and rolling eyes was not permitted. I understood the words to the songs on the radio (for the most part) and didn’t need (or have!) a web site to interpret them for me. I certainly don’t curtail my daughter’s speech except when it offends me (e.g. when she says something like “That’s so gay” and means “That’s so stupid”). As far as the same word having different meanings, this is not new. Fair, screen, light…I don’t need to list words that are spelled the same but have different meanings. Still, I have a personal aversion to people using “literally” when they MEAN “figuratively” but are probably ignorant. That is very different from using the word “screen” in 2 different perfectly acceptable ways.

  3. Harry Lake says:

    It has never occurred to me to think that ‘literally’ was being used to mean ‘figuratively’, and now that I’ve read the suggestion I don’t believe it. Surely it is, by contrast, easy to see how the literal use of ‘literal’ could be mistaken, by one unfamiliar with it, as simply synonymous with ‘really’? (Hang on…)

    • That’s what I’m trying to say…150 years ago was whatever it was, but these days there is, I believe, a specific meaning to the word “literally,” and people who use it to mean the opposite are not harking back to 150 years ago, they are just ignorant, and don’t realize that we have a perfectly useful word that means the opposite of “literally,” and they should use it when that’s what they really mean. Maybe I’m just not explaining myself properly…I’m a bit distracted by work LOL

      • John Cowan says:

        In fact, the intensive use of literally has been part of the language continuously from 1769 to the present. There is no period when it ceased to be used, as you suggest.

  4. Thank you so much for this post! I myself had been contemplating writing a blog post explaining that the supposed “correct” meaning of the word “literal” is, in fact, already “figurative,” but you (and the sources you cite) have explained it more succinctly than I probably could have. Your post is good food for further thoughts on the subject. I’ll have to take a look at Bellos’s book.

  5. Stan Carey says:

    bluebird: The post is mainly about the etymological fallacy. I see people complain often about the modern use of literally as an intensifier; they argue it has a literal meaning that’s being corroded by this ‘loose’ usage. But they’re not using it literally either, so (for several reasons) it’s not a sensible argument.
    As I said in the post, people aren’t using literally to mean figuratively – and even if they were, it would be only one of a large set of ‘auto-antonyms‘ in English that can mean their own opposite. Despite purists’ concerns, neither this nor the semantic drift of literally poses any threat to the language or to our ability to communicate effectively with it.

    Stuart: That’s an enjoyable roasting of She Literally Exploded and saves me the trouble of reading it (though based on your review I doubt I could have stomached the whole thing). I happily second your tribute to linguistic innovation.

    Harry: If you search Google for literally mean figuratively or some such string you’ll find many articles and other materials, some from reputable sources, using the literally = figuratively device either ingenuously or as a straw man for comedic or reactionary comment. It’s a frequent misconception.

    varioushistorian: I’m glad to have saved you the trouble! Though there’s no reason for you not to address it too, if the intention remained. Bellos’s book is excellent.

    • Stan, I think I understand your dissection of the etymology, and by extension the definition you give, of the word “literal.” I don’t consider myself a purist and have mellowed as I’ve aged (and since my mother died 10 years ago), so I don’t do “prescriptivist” any more. I’m too tired to care if people are idiots or careless speakers or writers, unless they are in my face. Even then, I notice errors but no longer correct them, and try to avoid those people as much as possible so as to avoid the temptation to do so. Nevertheless, if the word literal comes from the word for letter, my deduction would be that there was a certain exactness, a certain attention to detail, even a certain purity, if something was literal. Something would need to be done “by the letter.” I don’t want to rehash this, you know what I mean…In Judaism we have a branch of mysticism called gematria, where each letter is assigned a numeric value, words can be converted to numbers, every letter has significance, and changing one letter changes everything. Also, Torahs are hand-written, letter by letter, by special scribes, and the slightest stray line invalidates the whole scroll…so we know the importance of letters. What I’m saying is that FIGURATIVELY speaking, if something is to be done “literally” (i.e. by the letter), it means it is exact. So if someone literally exploded (or tore her hair out, or whatever expression you want to plug in there), it would mean she did exactly that. To the letter. Basically what I think you’re saying is that this whole discussion, as it pertains to the word “literal,” is like circular logic or a Moebius strip or something. The word has evolved to mean more than just “a letter,” but I hope it has not gone so far as to mean its opposite.

      • Stan Carey says:

        It doesn’t quite mean its opposite, though the newer use is more conspicuously non-literal. The fashionable use of literally is as an intensifier. If someone says, ‘She literally exploded’, they’re emphasising the person’s rage. They’re not saying ‘She figuratively exploded’, because that wouldn’t confer any emphasis at all. It’s more or less equivalent to saying ‘She totally exploded’, ‘She really exploded’, ‘She completely exploded’, ‘She absolutely exploded’, and so on.
        None of these adverbs is meant or interpreted literally in everyday conversation: we know they’re used for emphatic effect and we analyse them as such, unless we want to be deliberately uncooperative. I tend not to use literally as an intensifier, preferring to restrict it to its more traditional sense, but I won’t pretend not to know what someone means when they use it.

        • I don’t pretend not to know what someone means when they use it; I understand what they’re saying, and that they probably just want to intensify the emotion going on, but they are using the wrong word. Like people who say something is very unique or really unique. I understand what they mean, but they are ignorantly (i assume) modifying the word unique. Again, I am not on this planet to walk around being grammar queen, and I keep my thoughts to myself. I am careful with my own use of the word literally, careful with my own use of the word unique, and so on. Do I make mistakes? Sure. Are there things of which I am ignorant? Hell yeah. But I am on this website (and others) to learn more so I can speak and write in a more educated manner, when I choose to.

      • Stan Carey says:

        bluebird: If you think modifying unique implies ignorance then you must think George Orwell, Charlotte Brontë, Ezra Pound, Louise May Alcott and Arthur Miller were ignorant. It makes more sense to me to assume these writers knew what they were doing and to accept that unique has more than one common and acceptable sense, one of which is not absolute and thus allows modification.

        • I’m not going to roust those writers from their graves, although given the fact that they were probably human, they could have made errors like anyone else and their editors failed/feared to correct them, or maybe they were taking poetic license. Your average person is not an esteemed writer, and is not modifying “unique” because s/he knows better but chooses to break the rule. I am only going by what I’ve learned, and pretty much everything I’ve ever learned about that word has said it does not get a modifier. Not that I care one way or the other, this is just what is being taught out there. I don’t cringe when I hear people say “very unique” as I cringe when I hear people misuse “literally.” Everybody has her own pet peeves, I guess, and misuse of the word “unique” is not one of mine. I don’t really mean to beat a dead horse, I am sorry if this discussion has taken a turn that is annoying anyone.

      • Stan Carey says:

        Modifying unique isn’t an error, and it’s not poetic licence. Correctness is not absolute: it varies with register. Just because a usage is inappropriate in formal English doesn’t mean it’s universally invalid – it may be perfectly unobjectionable in casual contexts. This is the case with the looser uses of literally and unique. If you look them up in a good modern dictionary you’ll see the disputed uses recorded, because they have been common enough for long enough to warrant inclusion. What is being taught is what is suitable for formal use, but this does not make other uses of the words wrong. Language isn’t black and white that way.

        • I suppose that is one way of looking at it. But there are people who will say that just because many people make the same error, doesn’t make it correct. There are descriptivists and prescriptivists, and maybe other groups too, so it depends on where one is sitting. I understand and appreciate both points of view and have generally learned to let things go and not get riled up. There are definitely times that you just can’t fight City Hall.

      • On the gradation of “unique”, an assumption that always seems to be made by people who insist that things are either unique or not, with no room for gradation, is that when people DO treat “unique” as gradeable, they’re using it to mean “rare” or “select”. In other words, they assume that people who say “it is very unique” really mean “there are very few things like it”.

        I question that. I think people often use “very unique” as shorthand for “unique in very salient ways”. In a strict logical sense, practically everything is unique — every human being, every snowflake, every grain of dust, etc. But we usually don’t bother describing something as unique unless its uniqueness is salient in some way, and that salience IS gradeable.

        If the gradation of uniqueness is understood as shorthand for the gradation of the *salience* of that uniqueness, then the notion that it is a priori incorrect is harder to defend.

  6. Charles Sullivan says:

    I think the expression ‘literally” is used much often on the eastern side of the pond in a looser way than it is in the States. I think here we’re more committed to the idea that the word does not mean “figuratively.” Although now that we’re watching more Dr. Who this might change.

  7. Charles Sullivan says:

    Allow me to elaborate, please: If someone who was a spelunker (one who explores caves), said: “I went into this vast amazing cave, and it was nothing short of a literal dragon’s den.” An American would be confused because there are no dragons or dragon dens, so it could not be a literal dragon’s den.

    • Stan Carey says:

      Charles: I would be slightly confused by that line too – but on account of the phrase dragon’s den, not the adjective literal, which I would interpret as an intensifier. If the spelunker said “…it was nothing short of a dragon’s den” my uncertainty would be roughly the same.

    • John Cowan says:

      This American is not confused in the least, precisely because there are no dragons or dragon’s dens. If someone said “I literally had to pick up dog poop today”, that would be ambiguous, as I wouldn’t know if they had walked their dog or done something extremely unpleasant.

      • …whereas I would understand that to mean that they literally had to pick up dog poop. I mean, that IS what they said, right?!

        Maybe I will propose a word for people who want the emphasis they think “literally” provides, but still don’t really “mean” literally: Literatively.

  8. Stan Carey says:

    bluebird: City Hall is an interesting metaphor to use here, since it connotes the authority of political power – which is far closer to prescriptivism than descriptivism. But I take your point, and as an editor consider it important to know which rules to apply and when. The trouble is when rules suited only (or particularly) to formal English are applied willy-nilly to general usage, which does its own thing.

    Adrian: That’s a good point. Snowflakes and humans get all the credit for being unique, but if we’re being strict about it then everything is. Unique as a way of saying ‘unique in very salient ways’ is probably closer to what’s meant a lot of the time.

    Charles: The word doesn’t usually mean figuratively anywhere, as I’ve said, but you may be right about its distribution in the US. I haven’t looked into this aspect of it.

    In a section on unique his book Bad English, Ammon Shea reports a list of ‘adjectives which admit of no variation of state’ compiled by Joseph Wright in 1838; it includes dry, wet, straight, flat, equal, clear, correct, quiet, true, and dozens more. Shea finds:

    There are very few, if any, absolute adjectives that people have not tried to modify at one time or another. It appears to be an irresistible habit. Doubtless this is in large part due to people being lax with their language use, but on other occasions it simply represents a desire to be more emphatic.

    Robert Lowth, for example, who castigated the practice of modifying absolute adjectives, was fine with ‘most highest’.

    • Well, I mean, words have meanings. Of course people can bend meanings and change them…that’s the fun part of language. But seriously, it’s like telling someone to cut the cake in half and then asking for “the smaller half.” YES I know what they mean (and I have probably said that same sentence myself), but…. sigh.
      Yes, each human and each dog and each whale is unique because even in genetically identical beings (twins etc), they are never “exactly alike” (that is redundant, right?). There are personality differences, hair lies in a different direction, one might be right-handed and the other left-handed, etc. And yes people look for ways to emphasize something, express shades/gradations of uniqueness or clarity or dryness, or talk about something “more unique” (something that makes something unique stand out even more). But again, words have meanings, and for myself I prefer, at least in writing, if not always in speaking, to have some measure of precision. If one word serves too many purposes, it could get to the point that I could go around saying “Hand me that thingamajig on the thingamajig next to the thingamajig, will ya?” and hope someone knows what I mean!

      • Stan Carey says:

        There’s always a smaller half of cake. :-) Speech isn’t a subset of physics; it’s loose and ragged and always has been. It’s one thing to avoid e.g. literally as an intensifier in one’s own usage (as you do, and I tend to do), quite another to denounce it as ‘ignorant’ and ‘ridiculous BS’. That strikes me as unfair to young people, given that we do the same thing – frequently and automatically – with very, which followed a comparable semantic path.
        As for words serving too many purposes: polysemy is a feature, not a bug. Meaning is normally clear in context, and when it isn’t we don’t flail about helplessly. I don’t think there’s any danger of thingamajig taking over all our nouns. When the needs of expression require it, we rise to the occasion.

  9. I certainly have no beef with young people, but I don’t think this issue is limited to them. People of all ages say literally when they don’t “mean” literally (which you may interpret to mean whatever you want it to mean, except “figuratively”). As I mentioned about my neighbor (who really is ignorant), she is in her mid-40s. OK, maybe that is young to some people…but let’s not get into that…
    I do believe that many people are ignorant of when to correctly use the word “literally.” There are others who use it perhaps as you said for emphasis, or out of habit, or because they had a synaptic failure and temporarily couldn’t think of a better word to use. I would say that if one wants to keep one’s friends, it would be best not to make a fuss over this and many other issues. Still, I would hope that in formal speaking or writing, like in a presidential speech, the speechwriter would rise to the occasion and use a more meaningful word.

  10. Charles Sullivan says:

    Nick Clegg: “It makes people so incredibly angry when you are getting up early in the morning, working really hard to try and do the right thing for your family and for your community, you are paying your taxes and then you see people literally in a different galaxy who are paying extraordinarily low rates of tax.”

    This definitely intensifying thing.

    • LOL I guess if Sarah Palin could see Russia from her house, that there might be people who can see into other galaxies…maybe they have really really powerful telescopes…

  11. Charles Sullivan says:

    Oops, meant: This is definitely intensifying things.

  12. astraya says:

    I have been pondering the circumstances which allow or block the disputed use of the word ‘literally’. Certainly it isn’t allowed in all circumstances. Start with ‘When I told my boss, she became/got very angry’. No-one is going to say ‘she literally become/got very angry’, or even ‘she literally lost her temper’. But some people say ‘she literally exploded’. What is it about ‘exploded’ which allows ‘literally’ (for some people)? Does the problem really go away if they simply say ‘she exploded’. Then use ‘exploded’ with its primary meaning, and we can’t say ‘the bomb literally exploded’.
    The same sort of process can be seen with ‘she felt very embarrassed’ > ‘she literally died of embarrassment’ > ‘she died of embarrassment’ > ‘she literally died of cancer’.
    ‘explode’ and ‘died’ are strong words at the best of times, so why do people feel the need to intensify them in any way at all?

    • Aaron says:

      Astraya, in your examples, “literally” is not being used as an intensifier. It is being used to mean “figuratively.” Consider “she died of embarrassment,” which sounds to my ear like she has actually died and is now dead, while “she literally died of embarrassment” sounds like she was very embarrassed.

      • Wow. To me, “She almost died of embarrassment” or “She was dying of embarrassment” is just plain exaggeration or intensification, whereas “She literally died of embarrassment” means she. actually. dropped. dead. Like, literally. As in, required a funeral and a burial.

      • Stan Carey says:

        Since no one, to my knowledge, has died of embarrassment in human history, all versions of the line (she literally died of embarrassment, she almost died of embarrassment, she died of embarrassment, etc.) are self-evidently hyperbolic. Literal interpretations of any of them would seem to me deliberately uncooperative unless circumstances indicated conclusively, and improbably, otherwise.

  13. Stan Carey says:

    John: ‘precisely because there are no dragons or dragon’s dens
    Which is precisely the source of my hypothetical confusion.

    Charles, bluebird: ‘incredibly’ – now there’s a ubiquitous intensifier I could live without.

    David: It does seem to collocate more with hyperbolic imagery and metaphor than with straightforward description. Maybe people use it to acknowledge to their listeners that they know they’re being OTT.

  14. wilderive says:

    It is words like these that make me cringe a little. I can just hear a person—who’s tone is irksome to begin with—attempt to use it, while adding an exaggerated emphasis to temper their haughty veneer as if to proclaim their linguistic superiority. Ah, but of course, this is just embellished imagery. For this word, everything depends on the situation.

    “I have literally done nothing but clean your house all day.”

    Whether you are reading this or hearing it first hand, context is your indication. The variables seem endless: inflection, punctuation, how well does the speaker know the addressee, etc. At times, it may even come across as an expletive, where the word itself is there to simply inject your timbre into, while the string of words surrounding rend deeper than our more common array of curse-words. On the opposite end, it’s use can be extended as an utmost compliment. Perhaps if the word didn’t try so hard to define itself, it would be a bit happier just being.

    I tend to like to be accurate when using a word. It never ceases to amaze when encountering a professed adult who struggles to relay their idea because they can’t seem to find the right word or even an equivalent. I am by no means trying to imply any superiority on my part; rather, I’d just like to understand how this doesn’t seem to bother them. I’ll accept it as a difference in personality.

    • Stan Carey says:

      ‘Perhaps if the word didn’t try so hard to define itself, it would be a bit happier just being.’
      wilderive: Perhaps! But we can’t blame the word for that – it’s all on us. When people criticise a word, it’s often a way of criticising the people they associate with it. I think everyone struggles to find the right word sometimes. In casual conversation (as opposed to, say, written poetry), it ultimately doesn’t matter much as long as the essential pragmatic meaning is conveyed. A lot of usage is stylistic, deployed for effect or group identification: so it is with literally.
      ‘I tend to like to be accurate when using a word.’
      Should I address your misspellings? I wouldn’t normally do so outside of professional contexts, because it’s a trivial matter, but your opinions on language use suggest this is something you might be concerned with.

      • wilderive says:

        “…try to be accurate…” would have been a better way to put it! A correction would be unnecessary; I acknowledge most of them myself, and now I am “cringing” at myself. Ha ha!

        I would have to agree with you when you say: “…it ultimately doesn’t matter much as long as the essential pragmatic meaning is conveyed.” This is very true! when you have spent time with a person and better able to interpret their meaning. When it comes to venues like this, it can be much harder to interpret the message without tone or inflection; I would add “accuracy” as well but you have allowed me to see it is a relative term. What is clear to one may not always hold true with another.

        Everyone has a style to call their own, and sometimes when we cannot find the right word—this has happened to me as often as any—it is because a feeling sums the moment up better than any single word; any utterance would only mar the silence….If this is not the case, it may just be presenting the listener with a teachable moment….Or maybe this man/ lady is seeking someone to finish their sentence by chance (or on purpose if you are not a romantic!)…etc. If you find contradiction with this statement, try to look past it. The former was describing a more specific circumstance and came off a bit narrow.

        Thank you for your insights!

  15. astraya says:

    In addition, Google Ngrams shows that from 1840 to 1860, ‘literally’ was used almost as much as it is now. It then trailed off till 1913, grew slowly till 1987, then steadily until now (though it just seems to have faded at the last). Now, what did they ‘literally’ talk about in the mid-19th century?

  16. RC says:

    Reblogged this on Grammaticism and commented:

  17. Alan Phoenix says:

    I am always fascinated by the way Irish speaks English… I love it…

    Hmmm oxymoronical statement for this….

    Punctually un-punctual :) LOL

  18. […] is fundamentally metaphorical, and with literally we have walked a very long way from the Latin for letter. “[I]t’s impossible to tell where literality leaves off,” writes […]

  19. […] ‘literal meaning’ is literally a contradiction in terms. The peeve is (figuratively) hoist with its own petard […]

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