She Literally Couldn't Hear Me
The newspaper column that I write always ends with an e-mail address, JuneTCN@aol.com, where readers can contact me. And they do , often to cheer on my fight against bad grammar and to ask me to tell people to stop engaging in some linguistic habit that drives them nuts.
That would be lovely if 1. I had ever given the tiniest indication that I was in fact “fighting” against bad grammar and
2. I had any desire to tell people how to use the language.
I don’t do either in my column. Never have. I just talk about questions that come up and the answers I find.
Usually those answers are not what grammar-cop types want to hear -- research almost always proves them wrong in matters like whether you can use “hopefully” to mean “I hope that” or “healthy” to mean “healthful” (answer to both: of course you can).
Lucky for them, the things I actually say needn’t stand in the way of their hearing whatever they want to hear.
I’ve written about this bizarre dynamic before, but it happened again recently after I wrote a column about the word literally.
In the column, I explained that some dictionaries allow the word to be used as an intensive – that is, figuratively. According to those
sources, it’s fine to say, “I literally flew out of the room.” And I said so in the column.
What happened next shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. Not one but two readers wrote to congratulate me on my column railing against people's excessive and wrong use of literally.
“Thank you SO much for addressing the overuse of “literally”! That’s been bugging me for some time now. At work, I’m surrounded
by young women who use that word constantly."
She wasn't done.
"Would you consider writing a column about the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs? I keep reading about people filing bankruptcy and graduating college. UGH!”