Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Everything wrong is right now

When I first heard about the word "literally" being redefined to include its popular-yet-wrong usage, I thought it was one of those Internet jokes. But apparently this is actually happening. "Literally" can now officially mean "figuratively," which is literally the opposite of figuratively. 

(OK, every article in the world writing about this is making "literally" jokes to figurative death. I promise not to from here on out. Maybe.)

Throughout the history of the English language, words have occasionally assumed meanings that they shouldn't have, but incorrect popular usage won out. To paraphrase George Carlin, it's called second-usage because it's NOT THE FIRST! But this may be the first time a word has been given its polar opposite as a meaning, and definitely the first time in the Internet age.

I'm less concerned about what this means for a single word than its broader national implication. We live in an age where anyone who refuses to accept reality can adopt an entirely different one and — by watching the right stations, listening to the right radio stations, surfing the right websites and immersing themselves in niche pop culture — never have it challenged. Not agreeing on the facts is bad enough when we generally agree on the definitions of words. I can't imagine how much worse it's going to get now that wrong can become right in the dictionary (literally). You thought protest signs were bad before?

Flubber bean bumpers!

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