July 18, 2008

This headline confuses me

Air guitar hero loses toe — literally

Literally? Is there a figure of speech about losing a toe?

Other headlines from today's Daily News altered accordingly:

"Knife-wielding man shot dead by cops — literally"

"Raging Bronx fire injures three kids — literally"

"Jersey Shore mayor's stab at comedy comes up short — literally"

Yes, literally. He was then shot dead by cops.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


I love that literally has become slang basically meaning "yeah, this is intense!"

Thanks to Jesse Sheidlower, I've made peace with literally as an intensifier of a metaphorical statement. ("I literally died.")

But this is different. She literally, honestly, truly did lose her toe. Adding "literally" at the end makes it sound like you might think that's not what happened. But what else would you have thought?

I would buy a newspaper called The New York Daily Actual News.

But what else would you have thought?

I would have thought it meant she had her toe removed - until I saw that "literally" and realized that she had literally lost it - it had gotten misplaced or mislaid somehow and how she could never find it again. I read through that story hoping against hope that that angle would crop up, vindicating the headline, but no.

And no, Jesse Sheidlower can blow me - literally! There is a need for a word that means "not metaphorically," and using that word metaphorically is as heinous as sending in a SWAT team dressed as journalists and medical aid workers.

Shouldn't it be:

"Jersey Shore mayor's stab at comedy comes up short — litorally"

@ Vance. Wow. I'm so conditioned by the euphemistic use of "lose" that I didn't even recognize it as not literally. Good thing nobody reads this blog.

But, to take up Sheidlower's cudgel, are you equally offended by the use of "really" in the phrase "I'm really dying for some entertainment"? Literally still means "not metaphorically" when used in that sense.

Like people who complain about the New Yorker cover, people who complain that using literally metaphorically is confusing usually mean that "other, more stupid people than me are going to be confused." Has anyone ever actually been thrown off by this?

The New Yorker Cover comparison is a nifty one. Perhaps it's more offensive to abuse "literal" as it feels like a more literary, highbrow word. It's okay to abuse "really" because, historically, reality has largely been defined by Valley Girls.

People should use fewer emphasizers in general.

To answer your question, I'm not "offended" by word choices that don't involve offensive terms. I will, however, cop to being a prescriptionist (mostly), and believe that sloppy, wrong deployment of words isn't something to be encouraged just because a lot of people are doing it. The less integrity there is to words' meanings, the less effective language can be. "Real" and "literal" do not mean the same thing, so "really" can be used as an intensifier as long as you're not using it to mean "un-really."

And as a New Yorker cover complainer, I will reiterate that my complaint is over its weakness as satire and cynicism as an irresponsible publicity-grabbing stunt. As for "literally" throwing people off, that seems like a minor concern, on which I have no opinion. The actual concern is that repeated misuse of the word over time makes it less effective for those of us who want to use it to mean "literally." It really is analogous to the aid-worker thing, if you think about it, though yeah, on a slightly different scale.

I think the more upsurb part is the expression:

"Air Guitar Hero"

Me? I would have gone with:

"One Dumb Pluck: Fake Guitar Player Loses Toe For Real"

"EPA Secretary arrested for littering--ironically."

Really? You can't all be serious...........

None of you have ever heard the expression, during or after a particularly gnarly and/or awesomely shredding guitar solo, "he(or she) really lost a toe on that one." ???


That's sad.

You almost had me, but "or she" was a giveaway. Girls can't shred.

Also, GFE.

Lostatoe chuto motea cesi uosidi uahalle kahu mishe. Kaang bexa cewree ko kiskir toll ko manty ao eoin hy mishe thi fote base cewree an hatto kahu ostesa hatto. Dojeta dirasesi oacan dodetar ee nesa lesu efeste nedesi shonebo iora fote.

Ratuotoy ja mode quero oacan guto ouito syna ja poror sosa syna rise rinny. Tesuisazhi ilanu pura sal sosuna keagg theas showhe pura. Lelanari trun utore goituise nonu Shescla Iarhon cesi date eoin sabe Uesedoatasi. Wude chat gies repo oetesu kagongusesui.

Girls can't shred

Radosh, meet Ms. Marnie Stern. (If you want, literally: She's opening the post-Siren show at MHoW Saturday night.)

Heh. In my manifesto above about using the right words for the right meanings I said "prescriptionist" when I meant "prescriptivist."

Oh well. What can I say, I was off my meds.

"Woman drags monster truck from body piercing - clitoraly."

I think the point of the headline is that he wasn't literally playing guitar, because he's an air guitar player, but he literally lost his toe, as opposed to air losing his toe.

Hmm. You may be on to something. If so, that's the most idiotic headline ever.

I really can't believe I've read this whole thread.

"Air Guitar Hero is Loser -- Literally!" is clearly what they were just too cowardly to write.

I spend some time talking to non-native speakers of English and in a lot of languages you can't say "I literally shit my pants with glee when Karl Rove choked to death on his own lying testicles" and have it make any sense. That makes me sad for those pitiable foreign devils. Even worse is when someone speaks a language in which it makes perfect sense but they refuse to use it for purely dogmatic reasons.

Hey look, more crossover between "literally" and the New Yorker cover:

The Obama campaign won't let New Yorker writer come along on Middle East trip, and Rachel Sklar says: "Retribution for unfavorable coverage is a chilling thing to contemplate — literally, as in, it carries with it the very real risk of chilling bold, outspoken coverage."

Good point, except that "literally" chilling means reducing the actual, not metaphorical, temperature of something. (You know, like when you get frostbite and you lose a toe.)

Besides, what's the big deal? Don't they get it - the campaign is blocking access to Obama not as vindictive retribution, but as a witty commentary on media relations! Come on, doesn't their clear and obvious ironical intent in taking this stance make all the difference?

dude, i totally lost a toe playing the air guitar. No not literally you moron, you know, like, losing a toe.

A little off-topic, but what the hay: anybody know if irony can be expressed in Esperanto?

I have taken what should literally be everyone's new mantra through Babelfish translation roundtrips a number of times:

"I literally shit my pants with glee when Karl Rove choked to death on his own lying testicles."

"I cagó literally my trousers with joy when Karl Rove strangled to the death in its own testicles of lie."

"I literally shit my trousers with joy when Karl Rove blocked with died on her own testicles liar."

"I shit literally my trousers with pleasure, when Karl Rove strangled to death on his own liegentestikeln."

"It has literally shit my pants with joy when Karl Rove has suffocated to the dead women on its own testicoli of menzogne."

"I when literally in the testis where the roving thread of my pants cirque has death suffocating with by your, was every [wa] of joy."

"I literally shit my drawers with the merriment when [Rouv] Carl limited to death on his own lying testicles."

"I when the actual my pants Karl slub dead in the testis which deceives with indigenous suffocating the excrements evacuated in chorus."

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