colloq. Used to indicate that some (freq. conventional) metaphorical or hyperbolical expression is to be taken in the strongest admissible sense: ‘virtually, as good as’; (also) ‘completely, utterly, absolutely’.
Now one of the most common uses, although often considered irregular in standard English since it reverses the original sense of literally (‘not figuratively or metaphorically’).
1769 F. Brooke Hist. Emily Montague IV. ccxvii. 83
He is a fortunate man to be introduced to such a party of fine women at his arrival; it is literally to feed among the lilies.
1876 ‘M. Twain’ Adventures Tom Sawyer ii. 20
And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth.
2008 Herald-Times (Bloomington, Indiana) 22 Oct. a8/1
‘OMG, I literally died when I found out!’ No, you figuratively died. Otherwise, you would not be around to relay your pointless anecdote.
[My father] was a big fan of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, and he shared their belief that a person’s style of speaking and writing is an accurate barometer of that person’s intelligence and worth.
Breech, on the other hand, literally means the lower part or back of something, typically a human, that comes after the back but before the legs. Yes, breech means ass. So, breeches are ass-covers. I’m not sure I’ve heard the word breeches used in anything but writing that is decades old, so you can’t be blamed if you didn’t put that together before now. I sure didn’t.
I happen to be the son of William Morris, which gives me no special expertise save to say that my father would not have been “spinning in his grave” over Prof. Pinker’s essay, with which he probably would have agreed in large part. The manichean “prescriptivist/descriptivist” construct is bogus and always has been. While the AHD was conceived as an antidote to MW3, what my father saw MW3 lacking was guidance, not dictatorial pronouncements, something more than a terse “non-standard” note on disputed usages but less than a flat condemnation. My father, by the way, loved and celebrated slang, jargon and other “non-standard” language in his newspaper column for more than 40 years.
If “prescriptivists” don’t like the map of language the “descriptivists” draw, they are free to rail against it. But a fanatical adherence to imaginary “rules of usage” puts one in danger of losing touch with a living language.
RIGHT, EVERYONE IS LEARNING ESPERANTO, STAT.
invitapriore: That article in The Millions is so braindead as to not warrant any particular refutation, but I wish prickly little shits like Bill Morris could get it into their heads that treating the prescriptivism/descriptivism dichotomy as an aesthetic distinction is close kin with the sort of idiocy that demands that creationism be taught alongside evolution in public schools.
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