(The Blog)

And now for a few words about words (and many other things)...

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Entries in literal (1)


Don't Be So Literal! (Okay, I'm Trying...)

With all apologies to the Kindle, iPad, Nook, and even the Itty Bitty Book Light, the best literary devices available to English readers and writers are still the metaphor, analogy, simile and the like. They are what make language interesting, breathing life into the most common of words and revealing patterns in the way we think as societies and individuals, as well as the way we use language to engage, influence, and even manipulate. It’s what makes the literal into literature; in almost every example of the literary form throughout history, from the Good Book to The Great Gatsby and beyond, the exact meaning is but one interpretation (and, depending on who you are or who you are talking to, not necessarily the correct one).

But when it comes to my own everyday writing, I’ll admit that I have been one of those “usage literalists” that self-proclaimed “veteran drudge” (and former head of the Baltimore Sun copy desk) John McIntyre addressed this week on his blog, “You Don’t Say”. As an editor—both of other people’s work, and especially of my own—I get almost giddy when I spot an “over” or “under” before a number and relish changing it to the more precise “more than” or “less than.” I mean, come on—“over” and “under” refer to spatial not quantitative relationships.* Am I right, people?

*Though, somehow, it’s never occurred to me** that the sports-betting line known as the “Over/Under” should therefore really be called the “More Than/Less Than.”

**Until just now.

McIntyre’s post sent me to some self-reflecting. Am I sometimes being “absurd,” as the respected former English professor and author of Common Errors in English Usage Paul Brians would have it? Is the problem really the use of language or my own relationship to it? Is it the words? Or is it me?

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