Monday, September 26, 2011

Top 5 Words We Don't Use Literally

I am tired of people using thee words incorrectly.  Please stop.

5: Geek - A "geek" is a sideshow performer who bites the heads off of rats, snakes, and chickens, and performs other grotesque acts.  It is often used to mean a smart nerd or a computer nerd.

4: Instant - We like to think "instant" means really fast.  It doesn't.  It is an imperceptibly small amount of time. Instant pudding?  Not if it's taking me 2 minutes--call it "pudding that you can make really, really fast without the need for most of the ingredients traditionally required in the production of pudding" instead.

3: Decimate - "Decimate" doesn't mean to almost completely destroy or devastate (usually the proper word) something.  It literally means to reduce something by 10%.  When this referred to military discipline in the ancient Roman armies, it was significant, as one in every ten soldiers in the unit was killed.  Referring to a sports victory, it seems less significant (and less impressive: "the Knicks decimated the Celtics by a score of 100 to 90!").

2: Ultimate - This refers to the last in the list, not the best.  Thus, the ultimate chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows isn't the best one ("The Flaw in the Plan"--in which the good guys kick ass), but the last one ("Nineteen Years Later"--wherein we learn the futures of some of the Hogwarts kids).  Likewise The Ultimate Warrior was the last warrior in a line of warriors, but as any 80s wrestling fan knows, he was far from the best.

1: Literally - Why do you still get this wrong?  It means "actually" or "in a literal sense"--so when you say, "I was so scared, I literally shit my pants," you must mean you pooped in your skivvies from fright.  It is literally not to be used for emphasis.

As Steve Martin said, "Some people have a way with words.  Some people... not have way."  Let's see if, from your comment below, a way you have (ha!).


  1. The only one here I would argue is geek - that the technical-savvy definition is now (and has been for some time) an accepted and legitimate one.

    Merriam-Webster: [3] An enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity

    Oxford English: (*) [usually with modifier] a knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiast: /a computer geek/

  2. Fair point. I won't challenge the OED.

  3. If the Knicks have actually managed to beat the Celtics by ten points these days, Boston has been devastated AND decimated.

    -Jim in LA

  4. This is literally my ultimate favorite thing ever written

  5. Well Done David! You are a master at finding these small "5 thingies"- another one for you :)