This literally makes my head explode


Literally1Hi everyone, I normally post on Mondays, but recently the dictionary people have changed the definition of the word “literally” to also mean “figuratively” since enough people have used it wrong, and thus have literally destroyed the English language. I cannot in good conscience stand back and let this travesty continue without declaring shenanigans. I don’t care what the dictionary idiots say, people are using “literally” wrong, and each time I hear it, for a split second in my head it’s like having to plan an annual event, and we all know how awful that is. Here are some examples of how we nonprofit folks use “literally” wrong:

Example 1: “One of my staff literally hates my guts.”

Wrong! Your staff probably does not specifically hate your intestines. You just mean that your staff hates you with a passion, including and certainly not limited to your digestive system.

Example 2: “It was an awesome fundraising luncheon. Literally everyone in the room donated.”

Wrong! This would only be correct if ALL of the people in the room actually donated, including the serving staff, the AV dude, the children, the clients, the MC, the auctioneer, the volunteers, everyone.

Example 3: “My board is literally making me crazy.”

Most likely wrong! You probably mean that the board is causing you a lot of stress and anxiety. If, because of board members’ actions, you seek counseling and are diagnosed with a severe psychological disorder, then yes, they literally made you crazy, in which case, you may want to stop working in the nonprofit field and do something less stressful like make organic pesto to sell at the farmer’s market or something.

Example 4: “We need a better database. Our donors are literally disappearing.”

Wrong, wrong! Your database is crappy and it’s not recording information accurately or something so it is hard to find certain people. Your donors are not literally disappearing, since teleportation technology has not advanced to that stage yet.

Example 5: “That site visit literally kicked me in the teeth.”

So wrong that I want to literally freeze a banana and beat you with it. A site visit is an event, which is intangible. It cannot physically kick you in the teeth. It has no legs. Program officers, however, are tangible, and most can certainly literally kick you in your teeth. And if that should happen—worst program officer EVER—your organization may have hit the jackpot (just sue the foundation for “dental injuries resulting from excessive force.”)

Every time you feel the urge to use the word “literally” when talking to me, just punch me in the throat, because that will be far less painful (not literally), unless you actually know what you’re saying, for instance “I literally have over 1300 emails in my inbox” or “Parking was so bad that I had to park literally half a mile away.” That’s the beauty of “literally” when it is used right: It helps to separate reality out of all the hyperbole and exaggerations of which all of us are incredibly fond.

How can a word also mean its complete opposite? Where does the madness end? This has been a sad, sad month for those of us who love language and the power of words. Words are important, since our clients rely on many of us to advocate for them and to help them tell their stories. Look, I’m all for slang and I know that language is an evolving thing. But this is not slang. Slang is like “Dude, your afterschool program is so literal!” That would be OK with me. It’s also not an evolution of a word. It is just a bunch of people using a word wrong!

A while ago I wrote a letter to my newborn baby, detailing the lessons I want to pass on to him in case I die early. The very first lesson is:

Never judge anyone for anything ever. Even people who create stupid commercials, like those Subway commercials with the annoying adults with kids’ voices, what the hell were they thinking? Also, people who don’t know how to correctly use ‘literally.’ They say ridiculous things like ‘that meeting literally made my head explode.’ It’s easy to judge them, but try not to, since it doesn’t make you any happier in the long run.”

Well, son, if you’re reading this, I’m making special exceptions so you can judge people who use “literally” wrong. You can also judge the dictionary morons who decided to change the definition of a word just because a lot of people suck at using it. Heck, by the time you’re old enough, who knows what other “evolutions” the language has made. Maybe “principal” can now also mean “principle” since enough people get those mixed up. Heck, why just keep to language. We should also officially change pi to exactly 3.14, since those are the only numbers people remember anyway, screw precise calculations that has led to achievements like space exploration.

I’m going to bed. This is making me sick. Figuratively, but maybe even literally.

Example 6: “This is literally the worst Nonprofit with Balls post you’ve ever written.”

Uh…well, um, your FACE is literally the worst post ever written!

  • Roxanne Shepherd

    Thank you for suggesting we use words correctly! Friends and loved ones give me grief for being “Miss Literal,” “wasting” their time asking for clarification. But my premise is that words are too important to use recklessly, they are the — figurative 😉 — connective tissue between us humans so if we cannot depend on agreed-upon definitions, how can we develop trust in our communications? I remember watching a symphony performance thinking how much I envied the clarity of the musical “language” they all obviously respected and shared.

    Hey, have I now provided fodder for a future post about the use or overuse of quotation marks around words? Why did I feel they were necessary? How did they add clarity to what I was expressing?

    • Vu

      Thanks for commenting, Roxanne. Your use of quotations are excellent and appropriate. I love slang and colloquialism, but this is neither; it is just wrong. We must rally the troops.

    • Monica Elenbaas

      Roxanne, now I know one more thing we have in common!

      • Vu

        We should form some sort of exclusive club, like the “501c3 Grammar League” or something. We’ll meet over happy hours.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • Vu

      You’re welcome, welcome, welcome! I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way!

      • Monica Elenbaas

        The other one I hate is when people talk about funding being “decimated”–and they don’t mean “reduced by 10 percent.”

      • Vu

        Decimated means reduced by exactly 10%? I didn’t know that. So instead of doing work, I started looking up its origin, and it’s fascinating! It was a form of punishment in the Roman army, where 1 in 10 soldiers were killed as punishment for some serious offense by the group. More here You learn something interesting everyday when you avoid work.

  • This blog post literally made me laugh out loud 🙂

    • Vu

      Thank you, Mike, for your accurate usage of “literally.” Your comment literally made my day. Just kidding. I meant figuratively.

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  • Claire Light

    Hi Vu! I’m new to your site and love you! (Is that creepy?)

    Also! You used “travesty” wrong! It’s one of my pet peeves, after the wrong use of “literally!” But I still love your site (and you,) which is why I’m using exclamation points!

    • Vu

      Claire, that’s flattering and not at all creepy! Please let me know how I’m using “travesty” wrong and I’ll fix it. (Then again, if we all use it wrong often enough, the dictionary morons will just make it official!)

      • Claire Light

        It’s a transitive verb (requiring an object) meaning “a false or grotesque representation of _________.” You furthered the common misuse of “travesty” to mean “an outrage.” But that comes from the term “a travesty of justice,” meaning ” a false or grotesque representation of justice,” implying outrage.

      • Vu

        Claire, changing the definition of “literally” to also mean “figuratively” is a travesty of sanity, and of the dictionary people’s sworn duties to uphold the beauty of English. They have failed us all. They might as well declare “dog” to also mean “cat.”

  • Brian Cofrancesco

    This is LITERALLY my biggest pet peeve. I used to get irritated when someone misused the word, but now I cannot help getting viscerally agitated anytime I hear it used. I have nearly this word from my vocabulary, and I’m so happy someone else feels my pain.