Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Fix: Literal vs. Figurative

Overheard: "I was so sick! I literally puked out my guts!"

Ew. Hope not.

Presenting...Dictionary.com's definition of literal:
"adjective 1. in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical: the literal meaning of a word."

Now, contrast that with the definition figurative:
"adjective 1. of the nature of or involving a figure of speech, esp. a metaphor; metaphorical; not literal: a figurative expression."

Let's have a literal round of applause for Dictionary.com! Er, wait. That means we'd be clapping our hands in a circular pattern. You know what I mean!

What the word violator--whose guts are no doubt still firmly intact-- meant was, "I was so sick that I figuratively puked out my guts!" Or "I was so sick that I felt like I was puking out my entire guts!" Or even, "I was like a fly, dizzy from spinning through the air, only to land on a potential morsel on which to expel my innards." Or not.

Okay. So now we see why most people (incorrectly) go with the first option, eh? Even though we speak figuratively all the time, we don't throw that word around like we do the word literally. It just doesn't hit the ear the same way. (Did you catch all that figurative language? Literally, did you?)

So it's okay to say that you were so sick you felt like you puked out your guts, but if you describe the action as literal, don't clean it up yet. I'll be right over to see for myself.

1 comment:

nicole said...

i wish you would have been my english teacher. class would have been so much more fun :)