Monday, January 14, 2008

Grammarians at the gate

I realize this pales next to the fact that habeas corpus hangs by a thread in America, but I need to take a moment to talk about one of my erudite prejudices.

I've mentioned some of these before. For example, I think there's a 95% chance that the use of "impact" in any sentence that isn't about meteors or wisdom teeth is evidence of intellectual sloppiness.

And it irks the hell out of me, probably more than it should, to hear people use "literally" when the occasion calls for "figuratively." This often happens when the teller is caught up in the moment being described, searching for an all-purpose intensifier, and so it's arguably a morally forgivable excess.

But there's not much I can do to help a writer, even one I like as much as Robert Farley, who insists on saying something like this (emphasis added):

While we can always say that "it could be worse," I'm not convinced that, in the case of Hillary Clinton, the attacks actually can get worse than those that have already been leveled against her. The Republicans have literally (and I mean literally to read "literally" rather than figuratively) accused her of every crime that it is possible for one person to commit, and she still polls well against the strongest Republican candidates.

If he'd only left out that parenthesis, he'd still have been wrong, but excusably so. Hillary haters have taken it to extremes, and it can be difficult to write about that without also getting onto the yellow warning track.

But in this case, to go out of his way to insist that he's being literal when he's certainly, obviously not--to make such a fuss about wanting to be semantically unambiguous and then doing the opposite of what he professed to intend--well, he's just asking for it: I refer, of course, to sarcasm.

So, for the record, here are six crimes that even Hillary Clinton's enemies have not accused her of to date:
  • Cattle rustling

  • Hunting pheasant without a license

  • Bringing banned plants and produce through a State Department of Agriculture checkpoint into California

  • Piracy on the open seas

  • Removing mattress tags

  • Rebroadcasting a Major League game without the express written consent of the Commissioner of Baseball

(Appreciative nod to Doctor Beyond.)


David said...

Okay. Humor is a redeeming quality. I ended the entry with a chuckle while I had started with a groan. I applaud your care for the language, but I can't rouse myself to peevishness. Life's too short. (trite, I know). I am astonished that there are fewer uses of fewer, even among those using stylebooks. We are left with the reality that more are less. (sad attempt at humor)

Thank you for the chuckle.

Nothstine said...

What can I say. We all have our buttons. Mine is "literally"--or at least it's the one I'm in the mood to carp about today; there are others, I'm afraid.

Other people have their own buttons, which probably explains why there are so many blogs out there.