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10 March 2013

Take the Literal Road

The debate goes on regarding whether American English as a living language can go unfettered on its way (into a downward spiral or forward in onward progress, depending upon one's point of view).  Astonishingly to this writer is how prevalent such debate has been in recent days.

To my knowledge, NPR alone has recently had two major items on words, today's on the usage of "literally" on Weekend Edtion Sunday (which featured snippets of interview with NPR journalists -- too bad they didn't call Scott Simon on his "literally struck terror in my heart"), which continues the wonderment of how "literally" morphed from being "real" versus a figure of speech to being a figure of speech itself, meaning "I mean, really, really, no-kidding, you-had-to-have-seen it [place gerund here]."

The other NPR item more aptly addresses use of language today.  On one hand, we Americans (not knowing of anyone else, I can only speak of us and that's already pretty dangerous) are sloppy with language, cutting sentences short and challenging the basic subject-verb-object structure, creating new words and new definitions of old ones and forgetting and thus losing hundreds daily (as witnessed by a now unreachable, possibly defunct website www.savethewords.org).  On the other hand, many of us (now, this does not really include yours truly) are incredible wordsmiths.  These highly competent manipulators of words and language influence our thought, sway our decisions and shape our worldview.  Unless another master manipulator points the fact out, we, more likely than not, fail to appreciate what is happening to us.  On today's NPR Morning Edition, there was an interesting story called "Loaded Words," about "gun control" vs "gun violence prevention."  How each of us views the issue is how we frame the issue.

In the piece, George Lakoff contributed a word or two. I believe his books would be read if they weren't politically oriented towards Democrats. I think he was simply getting too frustrated about how we all are so influenced by the well-spoken Conservatives. They sound so reasonable, don't they, especially when they speak on NPR. Liberals tend to sound shrill or whiney. Lakoff has basically been saying, "Wake up, people! Know what words are being wrapped around you like a magic spell!" No, not like a magic spell. Words ARE magic.

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