prescriptivism

Filler words and filled pauses: Are they literally the same?

Social media spent some bandwidth last week flogging away at Vice-President Joe Biden's prolific use of 'literally' in his address to the Democratic Convention. Frankly, I don't really have much problem with this. The alternate use of 'literally' as an intensifier as opposed to a literal antonym of 'figuratively' is not some recent neologism. As Ben Zimmer points out at Language Log, this usage has been around since the 18th century. I won't go into the details of all that since the big guns at LL have already done the work.

And anyway, this is the Filled Pause Research Center.  So what's the relevance here?  Well, James Taranto, the Wall Street Journal columnist, took on the task of analyzing the ten different instances of 'literally' in Biden's speech.  Here's part of his contribution to the Biden brouhaha.

What makes this exercise even funnier is the fact that the word "literally" does not appear once--literally!--in the prepared text. All 10 "literallys" were extemporaneous. When Biden says "literally," it seems, he means "uh."

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