Literally virtual

rogersgeorge on December 26th, 2013

Literally and virtually (and their cousins literal and virtual) are favorites of people who like to correct others’ English, and favorites of people who like to get their English right. A lot of people get them wrong, and we understand what they are saying, so I suppose it’s a losing battle to get people into the habit of using literally and virtually correctly. However, when you write something, especially when you’re explaining something, exercise care to get these two words right.

I don’t need to define them, do I? (okay—literal means real, virtual means not real.) The informal (and incorrect) way to use these words, especially literally, is as a general intensifier, rather like extremely and very. Try to be specific or precise instead of general. Your language will be more vivid.

By the way, virtual reality is an oxymoron, but it’s literally correct.

I guess the wizard in the Wizard of Id is like me, only he can do more about it than I can:

Myself, I’d have had the king say “He hates it when people use that word figuratively.” And speaking of being specific, that’s a wood clamp, not a vice.

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