Saving The Language

A Fool In NH Column Heading

This week I’d like to put the humor aside. I am on a mission and I need your help.
In past columns I have written about an expression which has been overused in our society. Once dripping from the mouths of the young, who are given a pass when it comes to certain figures of speech, it has since morphed into the lexicon of people of all ages and intellect and we were late to react to and keep it from spreading.Of course, I am talking about the expression “No Problem.” Once a phrase meaning that a person was going to attempt a difficult task in order to unselfishly help another human being, it now is affixed to anything done by anyone else when it should never be a problem in the first place.
For example.
Customer: “Excuse me waitperson, but as I attempt to eat my meal which I am paying good money and for which I will leave you a tip, I see I have no utensils to do so with.”
Waitperson: “No problem. I’ll get you some.”
You get the idea.
Now I’d like to talk about another phrase, a single word, that was is being used with reckless abandon by youth but now, like “No Problem”, as they grow older has the possibility of growing like a weed through spoken English. We must do all we can to stop it before it does.
I’m talking about the use of the word “literally.”
Literally, according to Websters means: “Used to stress that a statement or description is true and accurate even though it may be surprising.”
Nowadays, if you listen closely, it is used to mean exactly the opposite and is used to describe a surprising statement that isn’t true at all; at least you hope not.
We are getting used to hearing it from the mouths of the young, combined with the nauseating and constant repetition of the word “like” it is tolerated as something that one might eventually grow out of.
“He was literally driving like a thousand miles an hour.” Might be used to describe witnessing a scene of a speeding driver.
“I’ve seen him in concert literally like a million times,” might be used as one-upmanship while sparring verbally with another over who is the biggest fan of the latest teen idol.
All cute and innocent at first until it becomes a part of their permanent language and never leaves until we have a growing society of people of all ages and professions using it.
Can you envision the day you go to the doctor to hear: “Whoa dude, that’s like literally the biggest mole I’ve ever seen. We’d better cut that thing out.”
If we don’t stop it in its tracks now, there is no telling what the future will be like.
That is why I have started a group called People Against Literally or P.A.L. (Friendly sounding acronyms are important when trying to gain the trust of the younger generation.)
It must be our never ending crusade to stop the use of this expression before it becomes an embarrassing staple of our language.
When we were young, the group A.G.O.G. (Adults Gathered Against Groovy) saved us from ourselves by putting an end to a word that, if it had become part of our permanent language, who have had a devastating effect on humanity for decades to come.
It is already too late to put a stop to the damage done by “No Problem” but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the gathering storm.
So, what can we do as individuals to combat a possible “literally” epidemic?
First, we need to notice our own failings when it comes to language. After all, we have filled the heads of the young with statements that were good-intentioned but totally absurd and they are merely following our lead.
“I’ll be back in a second,” “This won’t hurt a bit” and “If elected I promise to work for all the people” are just a few of those statements that led to today’s youth literally misusing the word “literally.”
Second…well. I haven’t come up with a second thing yet, but I’ll keep you posted.
So, I hope you will join with me in my crusade against this attack on our language. It may not seem like a big deal today, but left unchecked this will surely become a major problem and then there will be no turning back.
Thank you for indulging me on this serious issue.

Brendan welcomes your comments at brendan@weirs.com. He is on the web at www.BrendanTSmith.com