Literally Awesome Hyperbole: The Naughty Grammarian Explains
Miss Grammers wants you to know that she is literally dying to write this essay about word usage.
Miss Grammars must now rap her own knuckles with a ruler. Miss Grammers is not literally dying. Miss Grammers is alive and well and is no more dying than we are all dying in the literal sense that that each second brings us closer to our death. Now Miss Grammers must rap her knuckles again for introducing that morbid thought into your day.
Miss Grammers only mentioned it because she is sick to death of people using the word “literally” to mean exactly the opposite of what it actually means. “Literally means “in actual fact;” but the word has come to be used as an intensifier.
An intensifier adds no meaning, but is used to convey strength of emotion. “I’m really dying to …” or “I am totally dying to...” or “I am absolutely dying to …” Miss Grammers considers these examples to be trite and advises you to use them sparingly.
Sometimes, a certain four-letter word is used as an intensifier as in “I am f@@king dying to …” Miss Grammers considers this to be vulgar and recommends that you do not use it. At least. not in polite company.
Don't Misuse "Literally"
Using” literally” as an intensifier should be avoided because unlike words like “totally”, "absolutely,” and “really”, “literally” has another meaning. If Miss Grammers is literally dead on her feet, has she been buried standing up? It’s confusing, isn’t it?
Miss Grammers should have said, “I am figuratively dying” although that seems an awkward turn of phrase. How about we agree to say, “Miss Grammers is very eager to …” and call it a day.
Sick to Death
When Miss Grammers said “sick to death,” did she mean that she was literally nearly dead from an illness? No. Miss Grammers is in fine health.
The phrase “sick to death” is hyperbole. It is the use of obvious exaggeration as a rhetorical device, and it is not meant to be taken literally.
Miss Grammers apologizes once again for the death metaphors. She appears to be in the thrall of thanatomania today (an obsession with death or dying; the belief that one is fated to die because one has been cursed or bewitched by an enemy).
Awesome is an adjective that is frequently used as an intensifier and hyperbole rolled into one. The word was initially used to describe something that inspired a sense of reverence mixed with fear or wonder. For example: The star-filled sky on a clear moonless night is an awesome sight.
However, in common usage, “awesome” is used to describe anything that is merely admired or considered to be outstanding or an example of excellence. For example: “Miss Grammers wrote an awesome essay.” (The word "excellent" will suffice, thank you.)
If you must use “awesome” when you mean “excellent,” try to use it in an ironic way, so your audience is sure that you mean it as hyperbole.
Use “awesome” sparingly unless you literally want to sound like an overwrought teenaged girl gushing about the trivia of her life or a teenaged boy desperately trying to give the impression that he is cool.
"Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh
Love’s True Desire
Miss Grammers is absolutely thrilled to move from the subject of death to the subject of love.
Here are a few examples for today’s lessons from Miss Grammers’ (imaginary) novel, Love’s True Desire.
“Melanie literally swooned when Doug kissed her.”
Did Doug call 911 or did he happen to have some smelling salts handy? In any event, it most likely totally ruined the mood.
“Melanie felt like she would die if Doug did not kiss her right that very second.”
Melanie is the type of young woman given to hyperbole, but at least there was no threat that she would actually expire before Doug’s eyes. (Note the use of the intensifier phrase “right that very” to modify “second.”)
“When Doug kissed her, pressing his body against hers, Melanie knew that Brad was truly awesome in every way.”
Melanie is smitten with Doug, but is she so smitten that he is like a god to her? Perhaps it is only hyperbole especially since the intensifier “truly” is used.
Who is Miss Grammers?
Miss Grammers is a lady who wants everyone to mind their manners when they speak or write the English language. She believes clear communication is important, and the correct use of words, grammar, and punctuation is the best way to communicate clearly.
Miss Grammers does not wish to be a scold, but she must admonish you on this: Mind Miss Grammers--It’s for your own good.
Miss Grammers likes to observe the niceties of polite society, but she is not above “taking a walk on the wild side.”
What is your opinion of Miss Grammers?
Was Miss Grammers naughty or nice today?
A quiz for you straight from "Love's True Desire"
view quiz statistics
© 2014 Catherine Giordano