Literally

Possibly the most irritating habit I’ve picked up over the past two years is a horrifying, life-consuming addiction to the word “literally.” It started as a hilarious joke (as do most things in my life, including the time I accidentally killed a man in Juarez), in which I convinced myself that saying “literally” with a super straight face about things that weren’t at all literal was the GREATEST THING EVER. I know, I know, it’s that type of demented thinking that leads to horrors like hipster irony. I’m not proud.

Just like the first time I tried crystal meth, it quickly became a habit I literally couldn’t break. It also spread to my friends. Soon enough, even my dentist was saying things like, “I will literally pull out all your teeth if you don’t sit still.” The only person who remained immune was my boyfriend, too busy playing the bass literally all the time (not an exaggeration) to notice that his woman was sinking into a syntactical quicksand from which there was no escape.

Instead of fighting the hopeless fight against invasive adverbs, I’ve decided to embrace the word “literally”–nay, to CELEBRATE it–by exploring the most genius literal usage of our day and age as found in a little thing I like to call THE POP SONG. In a world of hyperbole, a world where people use and abuse the word “literally” on a daily basis, sometimes it’s refreshing to hear of things that are actually literal. Devoid of all poetry, subtlety, wit, and pretensions. Refreshing as a stream of Fiji-brand water, which is literally a ripoff. The following lyrics are literally literal. U hear me?

1. “Girl, run your own show/but don’t be on some ho shit.” –Kreayshawn

This is the most hilarious line I have ever heard. I love how Kreayshawn DOES NOT EVEN TRY TO RHYME. She just doesn’t give a fuck. She has something very basic to say (I would totally give this advice to one of my friends if she were trying to leave her 9-5 and considering prostitution), and she says it in tuneless deadpan. A few more singles like this one and all editors will be out of business forever.

2. “Bad enough to die from one/not to mention four or five.” –3 Doors Down

Well played, 3 Doors Down. Well played. The lesser intellects among us like to grapple with the existential dilemmas found in the game Would You Rather…(my brothers always asked me if I wanted to “die in a cactus bush,” and I’m still not sure exactly how that works), but you’re way too real for hypotheticals. Instead, you remind us of the immortal truth ever-hovering around the edges of the life-death spectrum. Why beat around the [cactus] bush? It’s always worse to die from more things than from just one thing!!!!!!!!!

3. “Stalking-ass bitch/shit I don’t like.” –Chief Keef

I’m totally with you on this one, Keef. I, too, dislike stalking-ass bitches. This line resonates with me in a particular way because of my downstairs neighbor, who truly gives me the creeps. He told me that he keeps baby oil in a spray bottle and spritzes it all over his body. Then he showed me his shiny arm and said, “It gleams.” Then he told me to watch out for creepy guys.

4. “Interesting’s what I find you.” –Black Eyed Peas

I really respect the BEP’s decision to go for the blandest adjective of all time here.  Other artists may kill themselves trying to unearth the MOST surprising, original, fresh imagery for their tunes, but the BEP extends a huge middle finger to the literati with this powerful one-two punch. They find me interesting. And they’re sure as hell not gonna elaborate.

On that note, I am literally packing up my Chicago apartment and moving down to Bloomington, Indiana, right now, to get my MFA. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

GUEST POST: Against Irreverence: Grammar in a Time of Apathy

Lisa Hiton is a beautiful poet, talented filmmaker, twisty yoga instructor, and also Spencer Hastings. She has a sexyyy poem in the latest issue of the Indiana Review.

It was about the twelfth time listening to the latest overplayed song on the radio (perfectly timed with the unraveling of a non-relationship relationship and the changing of seasons) that I realized the problem with Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.” That. Once I heard it, I couldn’t unhear it. It should be who.* This mistake is made frequently in everyday life, casually and off the cuff. Even in academia, I constantly correct this very error when grading my students’ papers. Deciphering the use of that vs. which and that vs. who causes much trepidation for my blossoming scholars.

Then I got to thinking about the importance of grammar in my life. Correcting grammar is problematic in many social circumstances for two reasons: it makes the corrected feel incompetent or chided, and it makes the corrector seem a pompous curmudgeon to all who bear witness to the scene. Linguistics have become a mark of the elitist. But as a writer, it seems crucial to be corrected when I make mistakes with language and syntax. Even punctuation seems such a small feat, but it can change the entire meaning of a sentence, the way it is read, and thus, the way the reader translates its essence.  Language is not a privilege; it is necessity. The complex modulation of breathing. So it would benefit us to consider it with such seriousness.

Think about how different the history of music would be, for example, if we allowed laziness of language from the beginning of time the way that we do now: our entire understanding of Whitney Houston completely changes if “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” had the line “…somebody that loves me”.  When we get to the break of “somebody whooooo, somebody whoooo” we simply would not have that part of the song.  And without it, perhaps we don’t have the song.  And without that song, what version of Whitney Houston do we really have at all?

So, comrades, grab your magnifying glasses and your old, dusty copies of The Elements of Style (no one makes grammar fun the way Strunk and White can) and prepare for the thrill of a lifetime. You’ll find song in structure of sentences and proficiency of language. These tiny markings may seem insignificant, but the power of arrangement and depth of complexity change the way we see and feel everything around us. Somebody who you used to know. If the suffering and pain were profound enough to write the song, write it correctly. Mostly, I hope you unrequited lovers all turn next time to J Alfred Prufrock for comfort in your lonesome—no one begs or croons quite like him (especially in the three dimensionality of Modernism compared to the lame, muted idea of emotion in post-911 American pop-music). [Ed.’s note: yea-heaahh.]

Oh and if you wanna dance with somebody, you wanna feel the heat with somebody…:

*the ongoing debate between who and whom is long and endless.  Somebody “whom” I used to know would just be too pretentious, so the coin fell to the colloquial for this top-40 hit. In addition, whom has fallen out of favor on both sides of the Atlantic in the mode of flexibility that characterizes the English language.