A Literal Giffing of the English Language?

ADoseofBuckley recently made a video called ‘The Literal Butchering of the English Language’.

In it, he references the common use of the word ‘literally’ in the hyperbolic sense, the way a lot of us are most likely to come across it. This is something a lot of people complain about, even people who feel assured they are not fixated on spelling or grammar. This is something that annoys all the ‘normal’ people out there.

Now, to say I am literally sickened by this video is not an improper use of the word literally, although it is the kind of thing he is being critical of in his video. At length. ADoseofBuckley has an angry reputation to uphold, but surely this isn’t something to get 5 minutes 36 seconds worth of upset about. It is true that the word ‘literally’ has the dictionary meaning of ‘in a literal manner or sense; exactly‘, but when using this word in a non-technical sense, the way most use it nowadays, have any of us ever been able to express ‘exactly’ what we meant? Using literal in this sense is actually very interesting, its using a universal specific for something that cannot be specified, it is calling attention to the nature of language, whether intentional or not.

I think what’s missed here is that humans communicate at least in a large part through the use of hyperbole. The English language simply doesn’t have the words for every specific situation of emotion. And if you were to make up words to suit it as you went along, this would garner even more of a rage from the grammar Nazis out there. ‘I literally shat myself,’ you might say, ‘when I realised One Direction were going to be playing in my home town’. Is there any better way of expressing such a mix of awe, home pride, sudden calculations over your available money mixed with the nagging feeling of a stunted maturity? I can’t think of one. You can use literally to combine the base, the mundane, the fantastical. Literally is just an enacted metaphor. This multiplicity of meaning is something more interesting that whatever exact meaning literally once had.

This argument also ignores the fact that languages survive and stay of use to us through adapting. Word meaning and usages change every day, it is only annoying when you cling to the old usage. If you say what you mean and people understand you, that’s all that language needs to do. If you use archaic words for no reason other than showing you knowing what these words meant before, you’re conversing with yourself, word wanker.

But if you carry on this idea, that whatever we use to communicate is language, we come up against all new kinds of communicating. This post titled ‘20 signs You Really, Really Hate People’ sums up one way in which the internet loves to communicate its difficult themes of introversion. Chances are, if you are introverted, you’re going to have trouble putting your feelings into words non-introverts can understand. That’s where GIFs come into it.

This list contains many popular GIFs used to represent social isolation. You will have seen many of them before. They take the difficult to express and put it into short-form. You may not have even seen the original source to know what the GIF means now. They do not even necessarily have any basis in the source anymore. GIFs are a way of communicating with someone else’s words, in the gaps between shared knowledge and speech. You can be as introverted as you like, but if you have a knowledge of these GIFs you can communicate easily, along with anyone else.

I’m sorry, I know it’s a meme.

You can create your own GIF before you can create your own word. GIFs open up an unending palette for expressing emotions, provided you can make the GIFs yourself, but with sites like makeagif.com that’ll practically do that for you, the limitations are few. What’s more they are shared on a world-wide level, not locally. There is so much potential out there, aside from re-using the same GIFs, universal as they are. That’s what ADoseofBuckley seemed most upset about, not that people were using literally in the wrong manner, but that they were all using literally. So whilst a greater adoption of GIFs in life may lead to a decline in text based ‘writing’ it provides a universal way for people to communicate and communicate in new ways.

This can only be a good thing, right?

 Sarah K.



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