Date
28 April 2010
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express Yourself: Bad writing literally drives me up the wall

The misuse of language literally makes me tear my hair out in frustration. Firstly, clichés like ‘tearing one’s hair out’ are not colourful and inventive; they are bland and lazy. (All clichés, of course, should be avoided like the plague. Ha, ha.) Secondly, the casual insertion of the word ‘literally’ into descriptions that are clearly not literal is a bad habit that persists even among professional writers and journalists. ‘Literally’ should only ever be used to describe events that physically happened, are happening or could happen.

In my opening sentence, therefore, I am obviously writing nonsense (and not for the first time). I’m not bald and there is not a pile of hair on my desk. I may be figuratively tearing my hair out in frustration but I am certainly not literally doing so. (And as for my headline…well, who knows where to start with criticising that ludicrous observation?)

We see this kind of misuse of the word ‘literally’ all too often.

“He literally exploded onto the scene.” Really? Messy.

“The popular books are literally flying off the shelves in the shops.” Impressive in a way but a bit frightening too. You might want to check for poltergeists.

“He literally never stops complaining about poor grammar and punctuation and semantics and…” OK, OK, enough.

Marc Cornelius

Managing Director & Founder

Marc has over 20 years’ international PR experience gained at leading agencies and in-house. He has specialised in aviation and travel for a decade, devising and overseeing successful international PR programmes and building 80:20 Communications into an acclaimed sector specialist.

Article Author Marc Cornelius