September 11, 2016

LITERALLY THE MOST ANNOYING THING HUMANS DO:

Our Language Has 'Interesting Little Wrinkles,' Linguist Says (John McWhorter, NPR, 9/05/16)

How the word "literally" has changed

Originally literally meant "by the letter," and we kind of like the idea that that's what it would always be used to mean. But over time, instead of meaning "by the letter," what people really just meant was "really." And so now, literally doesn't have that "by the letter" meaning; it's something that people use to figuratively reinforce. So that means that we have this word that you can say means both one thing and then its opposite -- and that seems to really get up people's nose, and I can see how that would seem frustrating because it can seem unusual -- but the thing is, it isn't.

It's something called a contronym. And so, for example, you can seed a watermelon, and everyone knows that that does not mean that you are laboriously putting the seeds into it -- you're taking them out. But then you can seed something by putting a seed in the ground and watching something green come up.

Contronyms, let's face it, are neat. We should rejoice that our language has interesting little wrinkles as long as they don't interfere with comprehension.

Contronyms are neat, saying you are so thirsty you could literally drink Lake Erie makes you sound ignorant, literally ignorant. 
Posted by at September 11, 2016 7:26 AM

  

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