14 August 2013

Literally.

I won’t bother to link to the article, but once again on the Internet, some nimrod was ranting about the end of civilization as we know it, and for evidence he pointed to the fact that once you Google “define:literally” you get this.

Definition 1 is the familiar definition, “Exactly.” Definition 2 is the popular, but often totally opposite, definition, “Virtually.”

The ranter is outraged, I tell you, outraged. Everybody who means “virtually” is using it wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. And now Google is telling them they’re right, because when they look it up on Google, they can now point to it and say, “Aha. Told you it means that.” The reason I’m not linking you to the original article (and the many, many others like it) is because these ranters don’t understand what a dictionary does.

A dictionary informs us what words mean when people use them.

It doesn’t inform us what words they ought to use, or which definitions are proper or improper. It could, but then it’s not doing its job as a dictionary. Let’s say I’m new to the language. Let’s say I grew up speaking Spanish. Or let’s say I’m a 10-year-old child with a 10-year-old’s vocabulary. And let’s say someone uses a word, and I’m not familiar with that word, and I correctly decide to look it up in the dictionary. I should be able to find that definition. If that person uses the word wrong—but everybody is using that particular word wrong, because people follow the crowd, and not dictionaries—I should nonetheless be able to find that definition. If I can’t, it means I’m not gonna understand what that person meant, and therefore that dictionary sucks.

If you wanted to get to “literally” before the idiots got hold of it and made it their own, you’re literally too late. And I mean that in both senses.

And if you’re bellyaching about the collapse of society, I got news for you: Your world ended. Mine didn’t. Mine is doing just fine.

Your world is a world in which words mean what they’ve always meant. They never evolve new meanings. They never require you to learn new things about them. They’re absolutes. Nice, comfortable, safe absolutes.

Your world has a lot of things like that. Customs stay the same. Cultural standards say the same. Beliefs stay the same. People stay the same. People fit into their nice comfortable categories and never deviate. Once you have a person’s personality pegged, you needn’t ever alter it. Once you’ve got a societal phenomenon figured out, you need never change your mind. You have people figured out. You have God figured out. You’re good.

Problem is, your world is imaginary. It doesn’t exist and never did. You manufactured it in order to bring yourself comfort. But change is the only constant in the universe. Change is inevitable. For God is behind it. He doesn’t want things to stay the way they are. He is making all things new.

That’s the world I live in. Makes me uncomfortable too. But it’s okay. Literally okay.