Before you get defensive, I want you to know that what I have to say comes from a loving place. Though I admit to playing favorites with words from time to time, you are all of equal importance because, without you, we people would have a hard time defining our lives. I recognize this burden you all carry. After all, we humans use one another to find meaning all the time (e.g. marriage, parenting, bigotry), but I digress.
For words, meaning is everything; meaning is how you will be remembered. Humans depend on those meanings for declarations of passion, avoidances of global conflict, and every scenario in between. And honestly, I really didn’t think I would have to talk to you about this because you took form in the 1500s, old enough to know better, but young enough to see what has happened to the words that came before you.
You used to stand for all things laughable and absurd, dare I even say farcical. But you have let the 21st Century corrupt you. I’ve seen you out in the streets, on television, radio, and all over the Internet, getting used in any way reckless humans see fit, even to describe the high degree of one’s aptitude (zounds!). I know it must feel good to be part of the cool crowd for a change, to be passed from person to person in ways you had never before experienced, but I have seen this happen with words before and, trust me, it does not end well.
As I said before, you should know better, but apparently I have no choice but to bring up your distant older cousin Literally.
Time was when no one questioned what Literally stood for. Literally was principled and had self-esteem. Its Latin roots kept its virtue intact for centuries. But now, in this new world of hash swags and pod carts, it pains me to see such a once pure word consort with the likes of Merriam-Webster, the street pimp of dictionaries, only to get redefined in complete opposition to its birthright of referring to words in their most basic sense without metaphor. Oh, alas, how unrecognizable your cousin has become, Ridiculous! ‘tis but a shell of its former self (figuratively, of course).
Certainly you saw Literally during the early 2000s and how much fun it was having, being inserted into conversations willy-nilly, knowing that people’s accounts of oft absurd events were at the expense of its identity, yet basking in the glow of unprotected conversation in the face of linguistic folly. And, like I said, I get it; who doesn’t want to feel popular?
But have you seen Literally lately? It pains me to see what a joke it has become. People mention it now as the meaningless word it allowed itself to be, the lexical tramp that people only call to practice their own malformed sense of irony (or sarcasm…the difference between the two has become so blurry lately).
So I’m begging you, Ridiculous, be mindful of your surroundings and more careful about the company that you keep. Most of these websites that use you to qualify their dozens of daily lists don’t care about you; they only care about the people thirsty for lowest common denominator distractions from their unfulfilling lives. When people call on you to describe both a laughing stock and an amazing talent, doesn’t that make you feel unclean? Unprincipled? Unloved?
Of course, I cannot make any decisions for you. But I just wanted to make sure that you think about these things when you let yourself come out of people’s mouths and onto their computer screens.
Please don’t go down the road of Literally. I promise you that you will feel true validation when called by people who really care what you mean.
C. LeMar McLean, word nerd