Monday, July 9, 2007

Contranyms

Happy Monday, Blogophiles!

I've gathered you here today to talk to you about the word "Literally"

It grates on the nerves of my inner Grammar-Nazi to hear people misuse the word "literally" so blatantly. (It does NOT, however, literally grate on my nerves, which might literally be torture.) I will start compiling some of the worst cases of "literally" abuse, and I will make sure to post them as I come across them, but there is a doozy of an example in the movie "Man of The Year", starring Robin Williams (tune in for the full Haiku Movie Review tomorrow!)

I regret that I don't have the larger quote in context, but the line was placed on the lips of a television newswoman telling us that Robin Williams' character (A Comedian-turned-politician) had appeared before a joint session of congress where he "Literally brought the house down with laughter" If anyone in the U.S. Capitol building literally "brought the house down" it would be a national tragedy.

People frequently use the word literally for emphasis, in place of the word "really" or "very" or, as the surfers say, "totally"

So if your friend has just frightened you terribly, you might say,
"You scared me to death!"
or, if you want to be more truthful,
"You nearly scared me to death!"
but please don't say,
"You literally scared me to death!"
That last sentence can never be truthfully uttered. Think about it.

But people misuse it this way all the time. As a Matter of Fact, what people quite often mean when using the word "Literally" is its opposite, "Metaphorically", or often "Proverbially". You might be proverbially or metaphorically "up a creek without a paddle", but if someone is telling you that you are literally up a creek without a paddle, you are almost definitely not. Unless the person telling you this is in a creek with you.

While literally is often misused to mean its opposite, there is a class of words that are, in some context, their own opposite. These are usually multi-purpose words that can be used as nouns or verbs, like the word "seed". The word "Seed", used as a verb, means, in the context of "Seeding a lemon" means "to take seeds OUT". However in the context of "Seeding a lawn", the word "Seed" distinctly means "To put seeds IN"

Some folks gathered a list of words that have this peculiar characteristic, and labeled them "contranyms" - words that are their own opposite.

As my wife and I discussed this the other night, I pondered deeply. I thought, this sort of raises the question of what "Opposite" means. Not everything has an opposite. For instance what is the opposite of "Animal"? Is it "Vegetable"? "Mineral"? "Spirit"? "Man"?. We think of Black and white as the quintessential opposites, but what about Red?

On The color wheel, The "opposite" of red is green, and the same applies to stoplights. but on a brightness scale, Bright Red is the opposite of Black, which is not the opposite of Red, But White, as we all know... "So" I wondered aloud, "What is the opposite of "Red"?

To which my slightly-sleepy wife said, "deR"

It took me a minute. Think about it. My wife is a genius.

---------------daily haiku of the day-------------------

I'm All For Free Speech,
But I do expect you to
Follow Grammar Rules.

--------------------------------------------------------

7 comments:

becca said...

I was literally up a creek when you wrote that. I had a paddle, though.

JeremyGee said...

David Cross beat you by 5 years.

Listen here (at this strikingly similar blog post)...
http://todayspodcast.com/archives/2005/03/this_literally.html

QUIT STEALING OTHER COMEDIANS MATERIAL, FRANK MENCIA.

Frank Gibson said...

I didn't claim to be the first to complain. I'm just complaining here, in my forum. Since I am so much more famous than David Cross, my message will reach more people.

SO BACK OFF, JEREMY ROGAN!

Valorie said...

So...um...I was going to tell you that David Cross beat you to it, but it looks like Jeremy beat me to it.

Frank Gibson said...

Yeah, Valorie,

Jeremygee beat you by 5 hours.

look right up above (at this strikingly similar comment)...
http://thedailyblogoftheday.blogspot.com/2007/07/contranyms.html#comment-4380202291685387891

QUIT STEALING OTHER COMMENTERS' MATERIAL, VALORIE MENCIA.

Valorie said...

"QUIT STEALING OTHER COMMENTERS' MATERIAL, VALORIE MENCIA."

That looks strikingly familiar to when Jeremygee said

"QUIT STEALING OTHER COMEDIANS MATERIAL, FRANK MENCIA."

QUIT STEALING OTHER COMMENTERS' MATERIAL, DENIS LEARY!!

(See, Denis Leary apparently steals Louis C.K. jokes).

Frank Gibson said...

Yeah, well, who doesn't steal Louis C.K. Jokes?