Sabotage in Broad Daylight?
If you like being punched in the gut, type the word literally into Google, everyone’s favorite Internet search engine. Here is what you’ll find:
- In a literal manner or sense; exactly: “the driver took it literally when asked to go straight over the traffic circle”.
- Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.
If you’re like most sticklers, definition 2 just ruined your day. When literally can mean “not literally true,” aren’t we living an Orwellian nightmare?
Since when is Google qualified to redefine words? A closer look reveals that Google’s self-appointed experts don’t even know the basics of capitalization or punctuation. For instance, why no capital T for “the driver…”?
Also, keep in mind that in America, periods never go outside quotation marks, and Google is an American company. What contortions would a Google spokesperson have to go through to defend the period placement at the end of definition 1?
Look at the wording of definition 2: “Used to acknowledge…” Does this strike you as a bit coy? Note the passive voice, which allows Google to duck the key question: “Used” by whom? Well, you hear it (ab)used a lot by education-challenged 18- to 49-year-olds who clearly have not bothered to learn what the word means. That’s why they say things like, “She literally threw me under the bus” and “I’m literally freezing to death.”
This is the very demographic that produced Google’s founders, and most of its employees. These literally-torturers are the people who make the company profitable. So Google “gives back” by legitimizing its best customers’ sabotage of this powerful word.
We language watchdogs may not like it, but for Google, showing solidarity with its contemporaries—even to the point of endorsing their ignorance—is a savvy business decision.
To comment on this grammar tip, click on the title.
Posted on Saturday, August 24th, 2013, at 3:39 pm