by Juli Weiner, Vanity Fair; photograph by Justin Bishop
We journalists, our perma-sour moods intensified by two weeks of attendance at political conventions, took great delight in poking fun at Vice President Joe Biden for using the word "literally," often incorrectly, during his address to the Democratic National Convention. Politico, which also anthologized several of the bitchiest "literally-related" tweets, reported that Biden literally said literally nine times.
But were we incorrect to condemn Biden's vocabulary as sin? Is there not some merit in such a singularly irreplaceable word? Verily, in retrospect, we believe there is.
Thesaurus.com lists several synonyms for "literally" -- "actually, completely, correctly, direct, directly, faithfully, indisputably, letter by letter, literatim, not figuratively, plainly, precisely, really, rightly, rigorously, sic, simply, straight, strictly, to the letter, truly, undeviatingly, undisputably, unerringly, unmistakably, verbatim, veritably" -- but none of these, with the exception of the hilarious and criminally underused "not figuratively," has the poetry of its synonymic sibling.
Go ahead and say it.
It's like a master pianist titillating the keys on his instrument! The soft introductory "l," the brusque harshness of the "t," the way the tongue languishes on the parallel "l's" at the commencement and conclusion, and the buttressed "er," a sound that evokes hesitation or nervousness -- feelings experienced by all who overuse "literally." And all of us do use "literally": teenagers, characters on Girls, vice presidents, the sarcastic. Is there a word more democratic than "literally"? Excluding "democratic," we mean.
Literally, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lit-er-ril-ee: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of four steps down the palate to tap, at four, on the teeth. Lit. Er. Ril. Ee.
Biden was right not to jump the "literally" ship. Figuratively.