Big &#%!ing Liar

In the excitement of yesterday’s big gay leap forward by President Obama, we appear to have missed mentioning Jonah Goldberg’s useful article where Jonah helpfully takes Joe Biden to task for abusing the words “literally” and “figuratively”.

The problem is that Biden insists that he does know what it means. One of his favorite ways to emphasize his seriousness is to say, “and I mean literally, not figuratively,” as if “literally” meant “I’m really serious” and “figuratively” connoted some effeminate lack of conviction. He says JFK’s “call to service literally, not figuratively, still resounds from generation to generation.” He told students in Africa, “You are the keystone to East Africa — literally, not figuratively, you are the keystone.” “The American people are looking for us as Democrats,” he has said. “They’re looking for someone literally, not figuratively, to restore America’s place in the world.”

I think Jonah is doing us all a service here because as we all know there’s literally nothing more annoying than some idiot saying something like “It literally blew my mind” or “He’s literally such a pain in my Oshkosh-Scranton corridor”.

I suspect we could all do with a quick refresher on the difference between “literal” and “figurative”. So here, if you will bear with me, are two illustrative examples.

Literal:

“Jonah Goldberg was lying when he claimed, on the dustjacket of his latest book, “The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas”, and the NRO website, and his publisher’s website, that he had “twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize”, when in fact his name had merely been submitted twice by his publisher for consideration.”

Figurative:

“Jonah Goldberg is a lying douchebag with the morals of a badger on crystal meth.”

I suggest that you print this post out, so that if you ever get confused as to the difference you can refer to it and it should clear everything up.






81 replies
  1. 1
    feebog says:

    I have a colleague (a labor arbitrator) who uses the word “parenthetically” in every decision he issues. I literally don’t know what it means. But I figuratively think its pretentious.

  2. 2
    David Hunt says:

    Too true. That last statement can’t be literally true, because the it insults meth-head badgers with the inaccurate comparison.

  3. 3
    Ash Can says:

    On a regular basis, I post snotty and ignorant remarks on political blogs. I can haz paycheck, speaking gigs, and book deals nao?

  4. 4
    gaz says:

    big gay leap forward

    so Obama is going to subject us to statist cultural reeducation and then starve us all en-masse?

    Oh shit.

    I knew there was something fishy about this.

    Damned commie

    /snark

  5. 5
    deep says:

    “badger on crystal meth”

    I’d pay to see that.

  6. 6
    scav says:

    Should I throw the word “hopefully” into the water as additional chum?

  7. 7
    gaz says:

    @deep:

    “badger on crystal meth” I’d pay to see that.

    Watch “The Salton Sea”

  8. 8
    BGinCHI says:

    This is literally the best post I’ve read today.

  9. 9
    BGinCHI says:

    I had a friend in grad school who used to begin a lot of sentences with, “Factually….”

    Did I have to hit him in the mouth once at a bar after some drinks and heated conversation?

    Maybe, but violence never solves anything.

  10. 10
    gaz says:

    @Ash Can:

    On a regular basis, I post snotty and ignorant remarks on political blogs. I can haz paycheck, speaking gigs, and book deals nao?

    Yeah, but you have to stop showering, and sleep in your clothes. (Hey, it works for JG apparently)

  11. 11
    amk says:

    jg – phew, this week’s paycheck earned.

  12. 12
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    Thanks for clearing that up for Jonah, he needs all the help he can get.

    It ain’t easy being sleazy.

  13. 13
    Ann B. Nonymous says:

    Is “fartfully” a word?

  14. 14
    RossInDetroit says:

    @scav:

    Should I throw the word “hopefully” into the water as additional chum?

    Lost cause. Hopefully now means “it is to be hoped that”. We stole hopefully fair and square and perverted it to our own uses because it was underused and is quicker to type than the alternative.

  15. 15
    scav says:

    @BGinCHI:

    Did I have to hit him in the mouth once at a bar after some drinks and heated conversation?
    Maybe, but violence never solves anything.

    well, Hypothetically . . . .
    Practically? Well . . . .

  16. 16
    scott says:

    The guy is a jerk, but my mom and many others use “literally” so reflexively that it is very annoying. This may be one of the least objectionable points he’s ever made.

  17. 17
    BehSci says:

    What he meant to say was that he was literally rejected twice for a Pulitzer Prize nomination.

    …figuratively laughed out of the room, no doubt.

  18. 18
    BGinCHI says:

    My favorite misuse of “literally” was during a NASCAR broadcast (long story), when near the end of the race the announcer said that the crew chief was “literally sweating bullets.”

  19. 19
    Dave S. says:

    There’s literally nothing like getting a lecture on the meaning and proper usage of words from the author of “Liberal Fascism.”

  20. 20
    SatanicPanic says:

    @BGinCHI: Watching NASCAR literally makes you a quote-unquote Real American.

  21. 21
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Wow, around 20 posts in and not even one “That word, it does not mean what you think it means” yet!

  22. 22
    SFAW says:

    Well, the question I have, is:

    Is Jonah literally a Doughy Pantload? Or figuratively a Lying Sack of Shit? (I can hear someone responding “Why not both?” already)

    OK, two questions. Among my questionry are such …

  23. 23
    Gromit says:

    I’m of two minds on “literally”. On the one hand, we need a word that delineates the figurative from the literal. On the other hand, the transformation of these sorts of words into generic intensifiers appears to be a natural progression in language, so I’m not sure it’s worth the energy to fight it. “Really”, “very”, and “truly” have all undergone this same evolution of meaning.

  24. 24
    gorram says:

    “‘figuratively’ connoted some effeminate lack of conviction”

    Jonah Goldberg, keepin’ in classy.

  25. 25
    kth says:

    Judging from the Google, promiscuous use of the word “literally” makes the prose stylists at National Review literally blow milk through their noses. Joe Biden is alleged to be an especially egregious offender. No doubt they were similarly amused and annoyed at George W. Bush’s lifelong war against the English language.

  26. 26
    gorram says:

    Ladies he’s taken, but challenge accepted anyone?

  27. 27
    debg says:

    I’m always reminded of David Cross’s bit on these words (and I paraphrase): friend says, “I literally shit my pants.” Cross responds, “Really? So what did you do with your shitty pants?”

  28. 28
    xian says:

    Biden’s using the word literally figuratively.

  29. 29
    kth says:

    @BGinCHI: five bucks says it was Darrell Waltrip.

  30. 30
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    @scott:

    I nailed the kids about this while they were growing up and they have it drilled into them. English can take a lot of abuse but you have to draw the line somewhere.

    Not a literal line, mind you. ;)

  31. 31
    Cacti says:

    Speaking of lies, Mitt’s already changing his story on the high school classmate that he assaulted…

    First it was “I don’t recall this happening”.

    Now it’s, “It certainly wasn’t because I thought he was gay.”

    In reality, Mitt was probably laughing and calling his victim a faggot as he screamed for help.

  32. 32
    Cacti says:

    FYWP

  33. 33
    GregB says:

    I am tired of the liberal fascist attacks on 5 time Nobel Peace Prize winner Sir Jonah Goldberg.

    It literally makes me sick to see such a scholar attacked by elitists.

  34. 34
    Redshift says:

    I’m curious — did Jonah explain how Biden’s use of ‘literally’ is part of the unfair liberal domination of our culture? Because I want to get in on that action!

  35. 35
    patrick II says:

    @gorram:

    He is only stating what he considers to be the literal truth, that members of the feminine gender lack conviction. It is his job as a member of the republican patriarchy to point that out.

  36. 36

    @scott:

    This may be one of the least objectionable points he’s ever made.

    That’s a pretty low hurdle to clear.

  37. 37
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Well, there is the snarky use of “literally” to mean the exact opposite, to add emphasis to the absurdity of the whole thing to begin with.

    Not that I’d expect a fucktard like Jonah to grok such a thing.

  38. 38
    gbear says:

    @BGinCHI: I’m not so sure it’s the best one. There have been literally oodles of great posts over the last few days.

  39. 39
    r€nato says:

    While I share Jonah’s horror at the misuse of the word, “literally”… doesn’t this make him an English language-usage Nazi, and therefore a *gasp* liberal?

  40. 40
    Egg Berry says:

    What I want to know is if Goldberg’s Complaint begs the question, literally or figuratively: Is our children learning?

  41. 41
    Rob L says:

    @gaz:

    It also helps if your Mom is a prominent member of the GOP media machine.

    And on a final note: Jonah Goldberg’s goatee literally makes him look more like a douchebag.

  42. 42
    Ben Cisco says:

    @Dave S.: He was the one who wrote that shit? He has LITERALLY made many on the right even dumber than they were already.

  43. 43
    R. Porrofatto says:

    some effeminate lack of conviction

    One might ask self-appointed linguistics expert Goldberg how exactly a lack of conviction is effeminate. His wife might be interested to hear his answer.

  44. 44
    gaz says:

    @patrick II: I’m fairly effeminate. And I lack conviction.

    In other words: I’m pretty and I have access to excellent legal counsel. =)

  45. 45

    @Odie Hugh Manatee:
    Did you also drill them on compose/comprise and imply/infer? Compose/comprise is especially annoying, because a lot of the time people should really be using “consist” instead of either one.

  46. 46
    gogol's wife says:

    I’ve noticed VP Biden’s love for the word “literally,” and at first it annoyed me, but now I think it’s cute. It really is just an intensifier for him. Like the F in BFD.

  47. 47
    SFAW says:

    He has LITERALLY made many on the right even dumber than they were already.

    Unpossible!

  48. 48
    gogol's wife says:

    @Roger Moore:

    Okay, if we’re getting onto pet peeves, the now widespread practice (especially in the NYTimes) of putting a hyphen between an adverb and an adjective is driving me up a wall. The Times now regularly uses phrases like “he needs a more-effective strategy.” I’ve written in to complain and gotten stonewalled, as usual.

  49. 49
    williestark says:

    I know that this is petty of me, but it’s so satisfying when a person (like Doughy) turns out to be exactly how one imagined him to be.

  50. 50
  51. 51
    lacp says:

    So Jonah is (figuratively) a pantload who is carrying (literally) a pantload? Is he literally doughy, i.e., made of flour, water, and yeast; or only figuratively, i.e., covered with soft and kneadable flesh? I only ask because I care.

  52. 52
    Ash Can says:

    @gogol’s wife: It becomes very easy to overlook annoyances such as the misuse of the word “literal” when the person misusing the word is otherwise a decent person. When the person committing a small annoyance is a schmuck to begin with, said small annoyance only adds to the odiousness.

  53. 53
    Hill Dweller says:

    OT: Obama literally called Romney taking credit for the auto bailout an etch a sketch moment in the Robin Roberts interview.

  54. 54
    redshirt says:

    To be honest, I’ve been literally lying to you all forever. But that was the truth.

  55. 55
    Egg Berry says:

    @williestark:

    I know that this is petty of me, but it’s so satisfying when a person (like Doughy) turns out to be exactly how one imagined him to be.

    Only when they suffer consequences for their abject stupidity instead of getting interviewed on, for instance, NPR and The Daily Show.

  56. 56

    @Ash Can:

    And in other news, we have this via LGF: “Top Romney Adviser: We’ll Campaign On Constitutional Marriage Ban.”

    Funny, given that just yesterday Romney was trying to dodge a question about gay marriage by claiming it’s a state issue. Chalk up another instance of Mitt being unable to keep his talking points straight.

  57. 57
    SFAW says:

    To be honest, I’ve been literally lying to you all forever. But that was the truth.

    Norman, coordinate!

  58. 58
    Bruce S says:

    Sorry Teach, but I’m gonna stick with ““Jonah Goldberg is a lying douchebag with the morals of a badger on crystal meth, and I mean that literally not figuratively”, because it makes this truth sound appropriately emphatic. Literally.

  59. 59
    BGinCHI says:

    @gogol’s wife: Wow. That’s just wrong usage. Period.

  60. 60
    redshirt says:

    @SFAW: Whoa. Now that’s a deep reference. Emphatic figurative golf clap for you!

  61. 61
    Bruce S says:

    @gogol’s wife:

    “the now widespread practice”

    Don’t you mean “wide-spread” ?

  62. 62
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Ash Can: The dope is being roped

  63. 63
    pragmatism says:

    My fave was when Prick Perry said that if the US leaves Iraq, Iran will invade Iraq “literally at the speed of light”. Who knew that the Iranian scientific community solved that issue?

  64. 64
    SFAW says:

    Whoa. Now that’s a deep reference. Emphatic figurative golf clap for you!

    Thanks, but you’re literally giving me far too much credit. It’s not as if I quoted something from Andrei Rublev, ya know.

  65. 65
    ricky says:

    @pragmatism: Aggies think faster than normal people and can see Iranian moves before mere mortals wake for breakfast.

  66. 66
    pragmatism says:

    @ricky: Lol. Gig ’em and howdy.

  67. 67
    ed Sanders says:

    Late to this, but I hope someone else took the time to note that Biden is using the terms correctly. Someone needs to see if they can reach The Editors (man do I miss The Poorman) for a proper handling of this.

  68. 68
    schrodinger's cat says:

    I had a German friend, who was a big Trekkie. He liked to use
    indubitably, like Data, in casual conversation. He was funny!

  69. 69
    Arm The Homeless says:

    @gogol’s wife: I am a well-known repeat-offender of this very sin. I beg for your merciful-magnanimity.

    (Ok, that last-one was for effect) ;)

  70. 70
    scott says:

    @gogol’s wife: “more-effective?” Good God! And this is The Paper of Record!

  71. 71
    Arclite says:

    POW! Thanks, Sarah.

    That was literally, not figuratively, TOO AWESOME.

  72. 72
    AA+ Bonds says:

    I have never really understood the problem of using “literally” with irony to mean “figuratively, but I really goddamn mean it”

    Why is this particular use of irony supposed to be worse than others

    I mean who says “figuratively”, like, ever

  73. 73
    VividBlueDotty says:

    Late to the party (as always,) but what @Arclite says. This is literally the funniest thing I’ve read today!

  74. 74
    VividBlueDotty says:

    @gaz:

    so Obama is going to subject us to statist cultural reeducation and then starve us all en-masse?

    Yes, that. And according to some of my Facebook friends who spend too much time on potentially virus-laden right wing and Christianist websites, he will also have microchips planted in each of us, supposedly for the government run health care, but really just to completely control us. For realz!

  75. 75
    VividBlueDotty says:

    @Gromit: Intensifiers of all kinds are TOTALLY overused in today’s language. I have to wonder if there’s a correlation between that and the rise in “truthiness.”

  76. 76
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @VividBlueDotty:

    Intensifiers of all kinds are TOTALLY overused in today’s language.

    Compared to what, who, how

    English from 50 years ago? Languages where fewer intensifiers are commonly used? Why not languages where MORE are commonly used?

    English can be summed up as: everything’s fine

  77. 77
    AA+ Bonds says:

    I think it’s cool to be excited about things as long as you can tell that advertising is a bunch of lies

  78. 78
    Citizen_X says:

    The effeminate lack all conviction, while the masculine
    Are full of passionate intensity

  79. 79

    What’s a bit distressing is that dictionaries need to list that “literally” can be a method of emphasis.

    Soon, people who don’t understand that dictionaries are supposed to be *descriptive* will say that it’s right, because it’s “in the dictionary”.

    Why can’t definitions include “added due to misuse of the plain definition of the word”?

  80. 80
    j says:

    Literal:

    Doughy Goldberg is the result of a malfunctioning douche nozzle.

    Figurative:

    Doughy Jonahberg’s twin brother is a douche nozzle, but is better looking and much smarter.

    Glad I cleared that up.

  81. 81
    gaz says:

    @LongHairedWeirdo:

    Why can’t definitions include “added due to misuse of the plain definition of the word”?

    Umm, how about because ENGLISH IS BASED ON COMMON USAGE.

    Ergo, it’s not misuse by definition. The vernacular becomes part of the language.

    If you are going to get all nit-picky about it, there’s usually a little thing called “etymology” (look it up if you must) in the entry that explains the origins of the word. It’s right at the bottom of the entry for a word. You know – in the dictionary.

    Christ on a stick. I just love it when lay idiots try to play armchair linguist.

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