A grammatical crisis of epic proportion is literally sweeping the nation. And Miami, obviously.
This emergency involves the rampant and woefully incorrect usage of the word “literally.”
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As with most things problematic, the problem probably started with the Kardashians. On their reality show, Kim & Ko. use the term willy nilly – “I am literally crying,” or “It is so hot I am literally sweating.” Maybe they think it makes them sound smart?
Then there’s “The Loud House,” a cartoon series on Nickelodeon featuring a brood of children whose names all start with “L.” The eldest, a bossy 17-year-old girl named Lori, suffers from Kim K’s same verbal affliction.
Is it a jab at Kardashian Kulture from a clever writer’s room? Maybe.
But the result is now my 7-year-old daughter – a fan of “The Loud House” but thankfully not the Kardashians – has taken to sprinkling “literally” in conversation all the time. Obviously, she has no real concept of what the word means but trying to explain the proper way to use the word is a mission, even for a dad who makes a living working with the English language.
How bad is the problem? Meet “Stephanie.” She wanted to play with my daughters in a pool the other day.
“Hi, I’m Stephanie! Those are nice noodles – I would literally love to play with one of them!”
None of us knew quite how to deal with this intrusion, so we awkwardly said nothing.
“I have a joke!” Stephanie offered excitedly. “What do you eat at the pool? Noodles! I literally made that up.”
“Hey, Stephanie,” I said, not in a mean way. “Do you watch ‘The Loud House?'”
She brightened. “Yes, I literally love that show? Why?”
As you can see, it’s not just my kids.
But one day I found the perfect way to illustrate proper use of the word to a 7-year-old. We were watching cartoons, and a character mentioned that he literally wore his heart on his sleeve. The camera panned down to his arm, and lo and behold, there was a heart patch on his arm.
“Hey, there’s a great example of the right way to use ‘literally’! Usually, when people say they wear their hearts on their sleeves, they just mean they easily show their emotions, and people can tell right away how they’re feeling. But here, he said he literally wears his heart on his sleeve, and you see there’s an actual heart right there on his sleeve.”
Her eyes got wide, and a light bulb went off over her head (not literally). And then she laughed the delightful laugh that kids do when they feel the rush of true understanding.
And I laughed along with her, the rare laugh of Parental Success.
Though this was a truly a victory, I’m literally dreading the day she starts calling everything “ironic.”