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Why I'm literally giving this week's column 110%.

Byline: Dave Himelfield

THE ENGLISH language has been used incorrectly since the year dot.

But never has a word been so frequently mangled and misused as the word 'literally' has in the last two years. 'Literally' means something, usually implausible, has actually happened. If a footballer was 'literally on fire' when he scored a hat-trick he would probably be in tremendous pain.

Yet we hear the word misused daily on TV. I recall one X-Factor contestant saying he had 'literally jumped 10 feet' when he was allowed to proceed into the next round.

Unless a kangaroo had evolved the ability to speak - as well as sing in tune and disguise itself as a human - it seems this was unlikely.

Speaking of mangling, X-Factor may twist pop music into its dullest, most sterile and disposable form.

But if it contained talking and singing kangaroos - or a man who could leap 10 feet into the air - I'd watch it.

The second inept and inappropriate use of 'literally' is just as common. Gok Wan and Jamie Oliver endlessly use the word when describing an action which is not only plausible, but downright mundane.

'I'm literally going to this stir this sauce.' Really, Jamie? I didn't realise stirring sauce was an incredible feat, unless it was made of set concrete. I don't believe too many recipes use concrete.

If I'm going to use 'literally' in the way that Gok or Jamie use it, I might as well tell you that I literally put on my clothes this morning or when I finish writing this, I might literally go home.

But it isn't just 'literally' which is incorrectly used with such galling ignorance and frequency. 'Invariably' is used to mean often. It means without variation ie always. 'Disinterested' does not mean uninterested. It means impartial ie without having an interest in something. Then there's that damned 110%.

Nobody has ever given 110% effort. If a sports player gave 85% in a match that would be a good effort.

Mind you, I might be 110% richer if I received a penny every time a player or manager claimed they had given it 110%. Hyperinflation associated with bad English has already taken hold and 110% is no longer enough. I'm sure someone has claimed to have given 1,000,000%. Not even God could manage that and 100% effort is a lot if you're God. There are words and phrases which are plain worthless.

What is the point of writing 'in my opinion'? Of course it's your opinion - you're writing it.

The phrase 'to be honest' is a waste of words unless we assume everything you say otherwise is not your honest opinion. I was smugly amused when former Talk Sport radio presenter and general grumpy-guts James Whale cut someone off his talk show for using the word 'basically'.

I appreciate language evolves. It is only because of widespread literacy that this evolution has slowed.

'Nice', you might be surprised to know, once meant ignorant. A 'man' in days of old could be male or female. An 'apple' in Old English was a word for any type of fruit.

It's easy to be pedantic or precious about language.

In France there exists an institute solely for the preservation of accepted French. Imported words are considered naughty and equivalents deriving from French are sought instead.

It seems somewhat fatuous to freeze a living language in some sort of artificial inertia.

There is however no excuse for lazy, inaccurate English which leads to nothing more than bad communication.

CAPTION(S):

FASHION GURU: Taking things literally, that's our Gok
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 5, 2011
Words:599
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