Tag Archive | understanding literally

A Literal Lesson on Literally

If there is any single word that is horrifically over-used and incorrectly used, especially among millennials, that word would be “literally.” In perhaps the best piece of evidence that the ironic hipster culture has gone way too far, it is probably literally the word most often used figuratively rather than literally.

And it makes me figuratively sick.

It makes me metaphorically disgusted.

It makes me feel like I’m allegorically surrounded by morons.

These people are analogously comparable to zombies.

I would say I’m fancifully part of an age group that literally doesn’t know what “literally” means. And I haven’t even broken out the thesaurus yet.

No, Trump is not LITERALLY Hitler.

No, you are not LITERALLY dying.

No, you are not LITERALLY sick of Trump.

No, you are not LITERALLY rolling in cash.

And, as a reply to the post that inspired this one, Limewire was not LITERALLY LIKE having unprotected sex on the Internet.

Let’s reflect for a moment on that phrase. The statement was that “[Limewire] was literally like having unprotected sex on the Internet.”

At a glance, we can see that this is not, in fact, a literal statement. It’s a simile. As we learned in the second grade, a simile is an analogy that uses “like” or “as,” for the most part (in reality, it’s slightly more complicated than that, but let’s keep it simple for these people who evidently literally don’t know what “literally” means). As a simile, it is an analogy, which means it isn’t literal. This is because “x is figuratively true” is directly contradictory to “x is literally true.”

“X is literally true” means that x is true. It means the value of x is “true.” It means that whatever we’re describing as “x” is actually, seriously, and literally true.

“X is figuratively true” means that x is not true. It may be “true in spirit,” but not in actual fact. For example, the statement that “Trump is figuratively Hitler.” Quite obviously, this means that Trump is not Hitler. This is plain as day to anyone who knows that Hitler has been dead for 70 years (conspiracy theories aside). It is equally transparent to anyone who knows what it means for two distinctly different people to exist. So it is literally impossible for Trump to be LITERALLY Hitler–even if Hitler was still alive, the two are quite clearly different individuals, and it would require the warping of spacetime for them to be the same person.

Literal statements are observations–facts.

Figurative statements are assertions–opinions.

“Trump is literally Trump,” in addition to being a tautology, is an observation and a fact. Trump is Trump because “Trump” is the person we mean when we say “Trump.” The statement defines itself as true. This is the first of the Logical Absolutes–“x is x.” We don’t need to make an argument to show people that Trump is literally Trump. At most, we have to simply explain that Trump is the person we are referring to when we say “Trump.” “He is Trump,” we might say, pointing to him on the television. We don’t need to provide evidence (under normal circumstances*) that the person we are pointing to is Trump, because “Trump” is defined as the person we’re pointing to.

Contrast this to a statement like… “Taxation is literally theft.”

It is.

“Taking money or property from someone without their permission” is the definition of “theft.” That a government does it, instead of a random thief, changes nothing. Although doublethink and cognitive dissonance permeate American society, the fact remains that taxation is “literally” theft. The only escape from this is on an individual basis, with the individual who says, “No, because I gladly consent to taxes!” but even that isn’t the entire story, because they couldn’t deny consent if they wanted to, so they aren’t actually choosing to consent. “Taking money or property from someone without their permission” being the definition of “theft” isn’t an opinion; it’s what the word means.

Having now dealt with a statement that is not literally true and one that is literally true, let’s move on to a figurative one. As stated before, there is no fact here, so there is no “true” or “untrue” figurative statement. There’s a statement that one person believes or doesn’t believe. Let’s examine the statement that “Trump is figuratively Hitler.”

Is he?

It depends on what you think represents the essence of Hitler. I would say that extreme nationalism coupled with white supremacy, intense hatred of non-white people and GSM people, willingness to conquer, an unyielding desire to rebuild the “glory days” and take them further than ever before, and a remarkable ability to inspire passion in people (Hitler was probably the greatest orator of the 20th century, according to many people) is what really constituted “Hitler.” In literal terms, Hitler was a dude who lived in Germany from the late 19th century to around the mid 20th century, formed the National Socialist party of Deutschland, dissolved the Germany Parliament, took control of the government, successfully rebuild the German economy, started a bit of unpleasantness, and then killed himself. Seeing as Trump is none of those things, we can see, once again, that Trump is not LITERALLY Hitler.

Maybe what you mean by Hitler is “scary white leader who may or may not be racist and who sometimes says mean things.” If that’s what you think represents the essence of Hitler, hey, that’s your opinion. I would absolutely ask someone who made the statement with sincerity, however, that Trump is figuratively Hitler, to explain how they came to that conclusion, because I don’t see the connection. He could be somewhat analogous to Mussolini, but let’s be honest here… Millennials don’t know anything about Mussolini. To be clear, when people say that Trump is LITERALLY Hitler (and they mean that he is figuratively Hitler), I have a pretty good idea of what they mean: they mean that they think Trump is an extreme nationalist, white supremacist, anti-LGBT, warmongering, MAGA-spamming tyrant who is going to put everyone into the ovens.

Don’t believe me? They most certainly do think that. It has calmed down a lot, but I’ll never forget the day after the election talking to a Hispanic woman who confessed to be cowering in fear with her family in her home, crying. Teachers throughout the United States cried with their black students. No, this actually happened. Don’t forget that. One guy wrote an article with the headline “I’m disabled–imagine what Donald Trump will do to me!” They sincerely thought that the Holocaust was upon them, and they refused to listen to suggestions otherwise. They were fully hysterical, and firmly convinced that Trump was the second coming of Hitler. A year later, I would love nothing more than for these people to openly and publicly acknowledge how absurdly hysterical they were, to take it into consideration in the future, and to take measures to ensure that they are not so swept up in lunatic paranoid and political rhetoric again. Keep crying wolf, and when an American dictator actually rises, no one will take the claim seriously.

But this isn’t meant to be about Trump–figuratively or literally. Whether one believes Trump is figuratively Hitler or not isn’t the point here; the point here is that he is most LITERALLY not “LITERALLY Hitler.” Taxation is literally theft. You are not literally dying (except in the philosophical sense that everyone has an expiration date).

* Presuming some idiot is not making the argument that Trump is an imposter reptilian overlord wearing a Trump Suit.