Avril Lavigne gave an interview this week regarding her Lyme disease. Let me just say that Lyme disease is a very serious thing and one I wouldn’t wish on anyone, except maybe Donald Trump.
Ok, not even him, although it would be a handy mechanism to make him go away. However, this has absolutely NOTHING to do with Lyme disease or Donald Trump, I promise you.
When I see an interview or news story on the web, I prefer reading it over watching the video. I’m old like that. If I had watched the video of the interview who knows if I would have noticed anything or not. Sadly, for me, I hear this kind of thing all the time so it is almost like background noise some days. When you read the words she spoke though, something stands out. There are two huge problems with the following statement Avril made in her interview. Read it and see if you can identify them for yourself.
“I was in Los Angeles, literally, like the worst time in my life and I was seeing, like, every specialist and literally, the top doctors, and they were so stupid, and they would pull up their computer and be, like, ‘chronic fatigue syndrome,’ or ‘Why don’t you try to get out of bed Avril, and just play the piano? Are you depressed?’ This is what they do to a lot of people who have Lyme disease. They don’t have an answer for them so they tell them, like, “You’re crazy.’”
The problems here are “Like” and her younger but no less annoying sister “Literally.” They are old problems, only now there is a brand new twist.
“Like” used to be something said by stoners and hippies. Think Cheech and Chong. It was a joke among any of the semi-literate, sober people of the world. But somehow, when we weren’t looking, it became sentence filler.
Something people (and by people I mean teenagers) said instead of words that had any meaning or relevance to what they were saying.
Then along came “Literally.”
This is where the twist starts. Instead of taking the place of Like, it has been ADDED to Like. It’s not just 30-year-old pop stars who do this either. (Pause on that for a moment. 30. If you have any hope at all of your kids ever giving up this way of speaking, get over it now.)
I have two teenagers and a 23-year-old. The oldest has been part of the Like crew for 10 years at least. She cannot stop saying it. It makes an appearance in pretty much every sentence. On days when she is really on a roll, it can make having a conversation with her extremely draining. It becomes such a distraction that I find myself counting how many times she says it rather than listening to what she is saying.
The middle child is part of the Literally gang. It too appears with alarming regularity. Because we already had a Like-er among us, we tried diligently to break him from the Literally bandwagon. Every time he used it, we would interrupt and say “Literally?? Are you sure?” It took years for this to have any effect on him. It made me crawl out of my skin from day one.
In the meantime, as we parents of teens have been fighting the good fight, some linguists have decided that the figurative use of the word literally is actually a good thing.
This is where the twist gets ugly.
This whole tired, hashed out fight takes on a completely different tone. Check out this statement from an article on the blog at dictionary.com. “I’d argue that when juxtaposed with seemingly outrageous but accurate statements, the original meaning becomes more effective exactly because it can also mean “figuratively,” and a listener must pause to determine which meaning the speaker intends.”
The article also has some explanation as to how the word literally can also mean the opposite of what it means and how if you use a word incorrectly for long enough then people should just accept the incorrect usage as a new type of usage thereby making it correct. At least, that’s what I got from it. She liked to use a lot of really big words as “intensifiers” and “in opposition” to what they really mean in order to make her point, so it was hard for me to follow. Also, I was eating ice cream and didn’t really care enough to try to break it all down.
But yes, I’m certain that is exactly what Ms. Lavigne means. She is using the word literally to actually mean figuratively instead and wants us to pause and try to decipher her PhD level grammatical gymnastics. She also has an entire generation of teenagers following in her footsteps. Teenagers who are so linguistically superior to those of us raised in the dark ages of dictionaries in book form that we can’t possibly understand how the figurative use of literally is exactly how it should be done!
So, what happens when you are using literally figuratively and you add “like” into the equation? According to this same dictionary.com “like” means similar to; in the manner of; resembling. It seems that would go better with the literal use of literally as opposed to the figurative use. If you use like with the literal use of literally, wouldn’t that be just like saying something resembled an actual thing? Rather than resembled something that isn’t real but is intensified in an ironic context?
Are you as lost as I am? Should someone check with Professor Lavigne? I would link you to the dictionary.com article, but the whole thing has, predictably, led all the grammar Nazis to surface with their arguments as to why this is wrong, wrong, wrong and can never be anything but WRONG! Then the superior intelligent supporters start in, and well, I’m sure you get the picture. Take my word for it; it just gets more confusing from there.
All I want is for it to, like, literally, stop. It gives me, literally, a headache.
Melissa Coble is a mom living in Phoenix, Arizona just trying to survive the teenage years with a lot of laughs, an occasional rant, and copious amounts of wine. You can find her counting the days until her nest is empty at An Unfit Parent and endlessly Facebooking here.