Don’t be so literal—literally

Jesse Colautti | Fulcrum Contributor

I’M HERE TO warn everyone of the epidemic that is sweeping its way across North America and is now threatening the intelligence of the students in our fair university. More widespread and contagious than any virus since the plague, this epidemic spreads not through contact, but by words. This danger is the overuse of the word “literally.”

I thought we were safe. That sort of thing can’t happen here, right? The knowledge our university provides us should be enough to arm us against such an obvious threat. But then one day in English class, I heard it: “I literally slept 20 minutes last night.” Oh, dear God, no. I left class thinking it was an isolated case, only to hear it again, this time in the cafeteria: “I’m literally so hungry right now, I could literally eat a whole pig.”

It has begun.

The hardest part is watching it consume the lives of those closest to me. First it took classmates, then my professors, and finally, my roommates. Nowhere is one safe from it—literally.

It seems the epidemic has mutated into two main strains of contagion. The first, the “alpha” strain, takes shape as the chronic use of the word in unnecessary situations. People use it referring to the concrete and physical: “He’s literally so ugly,” or “I’m literally so tired.” In both cases, a rational human being could assume some underlying figurative state wasn’t being discussed. Take the word out and the sentence retains its meaning.

The second strain is even more dangerous. The “delta” strain is when people use the term in the wrong context. I first heard this devastating mutation in the change room after my hockey team had lost 4-1. A teammate who hit the post a few times in the game stated, “I literally scored like 4 goals today.” If that were true we would have won the game. The worst offence came during exams when studying was “literally killing” dozens of my classmates. Strange… I don’t know how we came out with zero casualties.

It might be too late to stop this tragedy. Perhaps too much metaphorical blood has been shed and any attempt to make an allegorical last stand would be futile—but I, for one, have not lost all hope. I beg each and every one of you readers to make a stand in your own life against the word “literally.” We owe our future generations that much. We inherited a language that has been used for centuries by some of the world’s greatest minds to articulate complex and poignant ideas and feelings. We have already done enough to destroy it through the proliferation of ums, likes, and honestly. For the sake of our future children, and our children’s children, let’s put “literally” figuratively to bed.