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"Lift him out," said Squeers, after he had literally feasted his eyes in silence upon the culprit. - Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room - Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

And with his eyes he literally scoured the corners of the cell - Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading
 
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"If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves." - Thomas Edison

"It's important that we invest in America - literally. The terrorists wanted to destroy our economy, and we can't let our system fall apart. We also have to invest in one another." - Madeleine Albright

"I never can understand how anyone can not smoke. It deprives a man of the best part of life. With a good cigar in his mouth a man is perfectly safe, nothing can touch him, literally." - Thomas Mann

"For the first time in the history of mankind, one generation literally has the power to destroy the past, the present and the future, the power to bring time to an end." - Hubert Humphrey

"In television, everything is gone with the speed of light, literally. It is no field for anybody with intimations of immortality." - Charles Kurault
 
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Those are good examples, Kalleh, for showing how the "non-figuratively" meaning of literally is alive and well.
 
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Agree, goofy, except if Thomas Mann ever met Mikey Bloomberg...


RJA
 
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Hold on, did Thomas Mann write that in English or German?

imo, the trouble with literally isn't that it is used to mean "figuratively". All language is figurative. Why should literally be the only word in the language we're not allowed to use figuratively? Anyway, as Scheidlower says, the "literal" meaning of literally is "by the letter" as in "he copied the text literally." So when we use literally to mean "non-figuratively", we're using it figuratively. Also, how is the semantic shift of literally any different from the shift undergone with other intensifiers like really, truly, very?
 
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My brain hurts, literally.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Hold on, did Thomas Mann write that in English or German?

It is in German from The Magic Mountain.

quote:
Ich verstehe nicht, wie jemand nicht rauchen kann, er bringt sich doch, sozusagen, um des Lebens bestes Teil und jedenfalls um ein ganz eminentes Vergnügen! Wenn ich aufwache, so freue ich mich, dass ich tagsüber werde rauchen dürfen ...


The original German does not quite match up to the English:

I do not understand how someone cannot smoke; it is still, as it were, the best part of one's life and in any case a very eminent pleasure! When I wake up, I am glad that I will be allowed to smoke during the day ...

No trace of "literally".

I have never understood or sympathized with the anti-literally-qua-figuratively-ists.

So, literally means "by the letter", just like grammatically did etymologically.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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http://theoatmeal.com/comics/literally

PS: And I promise never to tell zmježd a joke...


RJA
 
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PS: And I promise never to tell zmježd a joke...

Is that a joke?

So literally means figuratively only ironically?


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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quote:
So literally means figuratively only ironically?

Literally.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
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That figures.


It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. -J. Krishnamurti
 
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zmježd

Knowing you for a scholar, I dare not essay humor because…

[missing text]

PS: Are there words comparably misused/abused? Not "hopefully" and such grammatically, but rather off-kilter on meaning.

[I am terribly sorry, Robert but I pressed the wrong button (and I mean literally literally) and ended up blowing away two or more lines of your text. If anybody gets email notices of posts, and could send the text as Robert wrote, I will restore this post to its former pre-zmj glory.]

This message has been edited. Last edited by: zmježd,


RJA
 
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Knowing you for a scholar, I dare not essay humor because…

I'd like to think I have a sense of humor, but who knows?

PS: Are there words comparably misused/abused? Not "hopefully" and such grammatically, but rather off-kilter on meaning.

Well one of the meanings of irony (link) is "The use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning." And, in my obscurely humorous way I was suggesting that the use of literally figuratively is ironic. So, what's the hubbub?

A similar peeve is that when folks say: "I could care less." they are somehow threatening the very fabric of the time-space continuum. Maybe they mean it figuratively or ironically; I don't know but I suppose context would disclose the intended meaning.

So, Dickens was already using literally figuratively just short of two centuries ago. I guess I simply disagree that a word or phrase cannot be polysemous and still not result in a breakdown of communication. In fact the language is full of redundancy, ambiguity, and polysemy, and yet we get along fairly well.

I have a problem with the whole "say something, mean something else" argument. Sure, if I say "mole" you have no idea really which of the multiple meanings I intend. But, we speak in sentences and paragraphs and stories and such. When I say "I have a mole on my check and I'm worried about it" to my doctor, I would be awfully upset with him if he thought I had a member of the family of Talpidae on the side of my face, or more absurdly yet, on my employee Charles Cheek. So, when somebody tells me breathlessly that they saw a funny video on YouTube yesterday and her head literally exploded from laughter, I would have to be a killjoy to interpret anything but that she found the video hilarious.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Arvanitis:


PS: Are there words comparably misused/abused? Not "hopefully" and such grammatically, but rather off-kilter on meaning.


Yes: really, truly, very. At first they were used to indicate the truth of what the writer was saying, later they because general intensifiers. I don't see how "I'm literally starving" is any different from "I'm really starving."
 
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The first is a medical emergency, the second is merely an American late for dinner.


RJA
 
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Anyway, as Scheidlower says, the "literal" meaning of literally is "by the letter" as in "he copied the text literally."

And...of course, I am well known as a "literalist." It has gotten me into lifelong trouble. A sign points to turn, I turn, for example...and sometimes I have turned into driveways! Why put the sign 1/4 mile before the turn?

I'd have to agree with Robert above. I do see a difference.

I understand most of the words, like "moot," "literally," "irregardless" (even though I hate it!), etc., evolving. However, z, the one thing I can't live with is "I could care less." It literally means you really could care less. Is the reason you don't care about it because, while it means that, people know that you're using it wrong so they know what you mean? What if that's not what you really mean, though? What if you really could care less?
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Arvanitis:
The first is a medical emergency, the second is merely an American late for dinner.

Are you sure you're not Proofreader in disguise? Wink


It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. -J. Krishnamurti
 
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Never let vanity get in the way of a good line...


RJA
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:

I'd have to agree with Robert above. I do see a difference.


I know lots of people see a difference between "I'm literally starving" and "I'm really starving", but take the long view. Both words underwent exactly the same semantic change and are being used in exactly the same way. If one of them is wrong, then the other should be wrong too.

quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
However, z, the one thing I can't live with is "I could care less." It literally means you really could care less.


What if it means "I could care less (but I don't)."

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What if it means "I could care less (but I don't)."
Ah...then it makes sense, you are right. Good point!
 
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While inflection isn't a major part of English, it does come into play here. "I COULD care less" fits your suggestion, Goofy; "I could care less" sans inflection fits Kalleh's interpretation - or so it seems to me.


It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. -J. Krishnamurti
 
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inflection isn't a major part of English

Stress plays an important role in English, as your post goes on to point out, but so does irony as I pointed out.

I am remind of the story of Professor Sidney Morgenbesser, who was listening to a lecture by Professor J L Austin, wherein he made the claim that in English two negatives makes a positive, but there is no language where a double positive makes a negative. And, Morgenbesser, dismissively, said "Yeah, right."


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Geoff:
While inflection isn't a major part of English


Inflection is VERY important.
 
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If I may...

I think that what Geoff meant was that inflection doesn't play a part in English the way it does in, say, Chinese.

It is very important for communication in spoken English because it conveys the mood or intent of the speaker

"Don't do that." can be anything from a polite request to a screamed order.

Stress also has the job of telling you which part of a sentence is important.

John said Mary couldn't come.

Might mean that you think Terry said it and I am correcting you but it might just as well mean that you think he said Kate couldn't come and I am correcting you.

JOHN said Mary couldn't come.
John said MARY couldn't come.

Might sound a trivial difference but will you be angry with John or with Mary?

But while it chanes the intent or the relative importance of parts of the sentence the meaning stays essentially the same.

The big difference is in writing. In Chinese two words which are to me the same sound intonated in two different ways have totally different meanings and, crucially, totally different written representations. Even pinyin allows for tone marking, though it isn't often used.

English has no easy counterpart for expressing different intonations in the written language. Punctuation can play a small part - you know the difference between

No.
No!
No? and
NO!!!!!!!

without hearing me say them. Typography can be used as I did in my John and Mary example above but this isn't a standard part of written English and everyone is free to make up their own typographical conventions. (I used caps, but I could have used bold or itallic or a more striking font or odd spacing or anything else).

In this sense intonation isn't as major a part of the language as it might be.
 
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I agree, Bob, that's what Geoff meant. Inflection isn't as important in English as in some other languages.
 
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that's what Geoff meant. Inflection isn't as important in English as in some other languages.

Well, and I agree with goofy. "Inflection" or in this case tone or stress plays an important part in English. Unlike Chinese, and other tone languages, it does not differentiate between lexical items, but, as Geoff pointed out, it can change the meaning of an entire sentence. Take a declarative sentence like "my brother reads books" and use a raising tone on the word books rather than a falling one and voilà you've got a question.

It's a similar thing with (truly) inflected languages like Latin or Russian. (Inflection being the changing of word forms (i.e., case) as their role in a sentences changes. In word order languages, like English, we can give different meanings to a sentence by changing the word order: e.g., "I despise Proust" vs "as for Proust, I despise him". In Japanese, you can do this by adding particles after words, to change their role in the sentence. The particle wa being one for topicalization.

Whether any of this is better than the other, or prettier, or more appropriate is hard to say.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Intonation is very important in English. It's not used the same way as it is used in Chinese, but it is still just as important.
 
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Typography can be used as I did in my John and Mary example above but this isn't a standard part of written English and everyone is free to make up their own typographical conventions. (I used caps, but I could have used bold or itallic or a more striking font or odd spacing or anything else).

In this sense intonation isn't as major a part of the language as it might be.


Irrelevant. The traditional writing system for Chinese does not have a typographical way to indicate tone. (It can be indicated in Pinyin or Bopomofo.) There are all sorts of things going on in spoken English that never make it to paper, except in an ad hoc way such as you describe. This does not make it more or less important to the language. The phonological system of English tone is used in a different way than in Chinese and other tone languages.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Perhaps coincidence, but I frequently hear Americans from the Northeast inflect the final word of a sentence as if it were interrogative when they intend a declarative sentence. I.e, the voice rises on the last syllable. I hear it much more in women than men for some reason.


It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. -J. Krishnamurti
 
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quote:
hear it much more in women than men for some reason.

As in "Do you not understand the word 'No'"?


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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It's not used the same way as it is used in Chinese, but it is still just as important.
Well, since I don't speak Chinese, that's hard for me to say. From what I have read and from hearing from Chinese colleagues, intonation is much more important in Chinese. However, I think you'd have to speak both languages to know for sure, and I do not. So, I won't be adamant about it.
 
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I don't speak Chinese either. I dont think I need to speak Chinese in order to say that in Chinese tone signals a difference between lexical items. In English intonation signals a difference between utterances. Consider the difference between "what are we having for dinner?" with a falling intonation (I'm asking to find out) and the same question with a rising intonation (you already told me, and I'm asking to make sure I know). IMO this makes intonation just as important in English as in Chinese.

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quote:
Originally posted by Geoff:
Perhaps coincidence, but I frequently hear Americans from the Northeast inflect the final word of a sentence as if it were interrogative when they intend a declarative sentence. I.e, the voice rises on the last syllable. I hear it much more in women than men for some reason.
I'm feeling dense: can you give examples?
 
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quote:
Originally posted by bethree5:
I'm feeling dense: can you give examples?


It sounds like he's talking about High Rising Terminal or uptalk.
 
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Try saying,
"That's a good thing?" as a question followed by
"That's a good thing!" as a definitate answer.

(Without sound files it's rather hard to demonstrate. Smile)
 
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quote:
In English intonation signals a difference between utterances.
Goofy, I agree with you on this. I just thought this was more important in Chinese. That's all.
 
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