Tuesday 12 November 2013

The "Literally" Thing

Word Nerd

Hey, yo!

So a little while back I doodled on here about expressions - turns of phrase with various roots - that have drifted, just a little, from their intention when first used. Like turn the other cheek or the game is afoot. Lovely little examples of how language and culture shift over time.

'Cause that's what editors do. Rock and roll, baby. Rock and fuckin' roll.

Anyway, it got a very modest feedback on Facebook and Twitter, and there was a little chat about misuses that people were fond of - or irritated by, as it happens - and a bit of fond discussion about usage and etymology. Then it came up again.

What about "literally"?

Ah, yes. So this is an old chestnut, and one which the internet's guardians of language are very fond of railing about (seriously, I love the Oatmeal, but I haven't got your back on this one). And it's had a bit of a resurgence in everyone's minds, lately, since the Oxford English Dictionary made the decision to include the figurative sense of the word in its entry.

(Many tophats flew off many heads, that day. Many monocles popped out in outraged splutter. That terrible, terrible day.)

But wait!

Because seriously, this is a thing. And it's not a big deal. Untwist that there knicker, podner! And let me sort this out for you, so you can stop worrying yourself about it and go back to explaining the difference between affect and effect to people. Let me explain why your objections to this are all wrong...

"You can't just change what things mean in dictionaries!"

Well, that's just silly, for starters. If you couldn't "just" add or change words in the dictionary, it would look like this and would be worse than useless. Obviously English changes, and the dictionary tells us how to use words in English, so the dictionary has to change. You may choose to rail against drift in the language if you wish, although I can think of better uses of your time, but you can't really complain about the dictionary doing its job, which is reflecting how language is used. Don't blame the OED for being the world's pre-eminent English Dictionary...

"But it's the opposite of what it means! You can't do that!"

Why the hell not? Cleave means "to stick together" and "to separate." Sanction means "to grant approval to" and "to withdraw support from." Fast means "moving quickly" and "fixed and immobile." Trimming that tree, are you? Would sir like the secateurs or the tinsel?

And anyway, it doesn't. People say that the modern usage of literally means "figuratively," but who in the history of saying things with your face has ever actually pointed out, mid-metaphor, that they're being metaphorical? Can you imagine anyone saying, "My father figuratively exploded when he saw the scratch on the car; I say figuratively, because I don't want you to be alarmed at the prospect of my father's detonation. He's actually quite well. I meant to say he was very angry."?

(You can? Huh. I'd keep away from that guy. I bet he tucks in his t-shirt and collects used matches.)

The contemporary, figurative use of the word literally actually completely depends on both the speaker and the listener being aware of its traditional meaning. It's used for emphasis. I'm presenting what is clearly a metaphor ("I'm neck-deep in paperwork down here!") and then playfully suggesting that it's not a metaphor ("No, help me! I'm genuinely, literally, neck-deep in paperwork here! Haha! It's funny because it's not in fact true, but I'm pretending it is!") in order to emphasise the metaphor.

Get it? It's supposed to be funny, you jerk. And you ruined it.

I love you. Please don't be angry.

"But it's not what it's supposed to mean! It's new!"

You're dead right... in about the seventeenth century.

This usage goes back hundreds of years. There was only just such a thing as dictionaries when people started using literally this way.

Jane Austen was "literally rocked in bed" in a stormy night; Mark Twain was "literally rolling in wealth"; Louisa May Alcott's land "literally flowed with milk and honey." This is not a new thing. How can it be an irritating change to the language you speak if it happened before your grandmother's grandmother was born? There is honestly no way you can claim to remember a time when you only knew the original sense of the word and was unpleasantly surprised to discover its new meaning.

Which means you've learned your distaste of its figurative sense. Someone - some low-down son of a gun - has gone to the trouble of teaching you to be irritated by a usage that's been utterly ubiquitous since long before the people who taught the people who taught the people who taught them to hate it were even born.

So frankly, if you're gonna get angry at someone, I'd track down that guy. 'Cause he just plumb filled your world with aggravation to no good effect.

You're welcome.

Monday 11 November 2013

Ritual Crime Unit OUT NOW!

Hey all,

So shut up and set down your coffee and donut - yes, I can see you, stop hiding it behind that stack of paperwork and pretending it's somebody else's donut; it's okay to eat donuts, I don't mind - for just one moment and check this motherfunster out right now.

Because E. E. Richardson, the brilliant and talented young adult horror writer, has made her adult debut right here at Abaddon Towers, and it is awesome.

Ritual Crime Unit: Under the Skin is a novella, the first in a new series of urban fantasy police procedurals which I'm frankly sure will have nerds all over the country saying "Who Aaronovitch? Is that even a real name?" in about a month. Maybe two, tops.

Elizabeth come to my attention via the open submissions month last year (which you may remember), and was a very happy discovery.

Here's the blurb:

A tough, hard-nosed career officer in the male-dominated world of British policing, DCI Claire Pierce of North Yorkshire Police heads Northern England’s underfunded and understaffed Ritual Crime Unit. Unregarded by the traditional police, struggling with an out-sized caseload, Pierce is about to tackle her most shocking case so far.

Following reports of unlicensed shapeshifters running wild in the Dales, DCI Pierce leads a failed raid to capture the skinbinder responsible. While the dust is still settling, a team from Counter Terrorism turns up and takes the case off her.

Pursuing the case off the record, she uncovers something murkier and more terrible than she suspected. Has her quarry achieved the impossible and learned to bind human skin?

Under the Skin is available right now, from the Rebellion Store,  from Kindle (US, UK, and elsewhere) and most other ebook channels. If you don't buy it, you might be unprepared.

It's even available, in strictly limited numbers, as a physical edition from Forbidden Planet! These babies are signed and numbered, and won't last long.


About The Author

E.E. Richardson has been writing books since she was eleven years old, and had her first novel The Devil’s Footsteps picked up for publication at the age of twenty. Since then she’s had seven more young adult horror novels published by Random House and Barrington Stoke. Under the Skin is her first story aimed at adults. She also has a B.Sc. in Cybernetics and Virtual Worlds, which hasn’t been useful for much but does sound impressive.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Save Lincs Libraries!

Hey all,

So bit of a serious moment here (what do you mean, I never did Day Two of my con report; it's coming, okay?). So the fine folk at reviews/fiction/geek culture website warpcoresf.co.uk have asked us to highlight stuff going on at Lincolnshire County Council, and this is serious stuff. Libraries are many people's primary or sole source of books, and they deserve our protection.

Here's the spiel:

Lincolnshire County Council plan to close all but 15 of the county's library buildings. They want to reduce the hours of the remaining libraries, take mobile library stops down from 400 to 126, sell off buildings, and cut 170 skilled library jobs. In all, these cuts are worth some £2 million, out of a front-line libraries budget of around £6 million.

You can read more details of the campaign here.

In order to save our libraries, we need to make our opposition to these cuts known before the 3rd of December, when the council executive make their decision. This is an outrage that will cut thousands of people off from the discovery of literature, it will damage literacy rates, and it will deprive many people of access to the internet. Libraries are also hugely important for midlist writers, for whom discovery is proving harder thanks to the closure of so many independent book stores.

Please tweet your opposition to @savelincslibs. If you'd like to go further and blog about this, an email to q@warpcoresf.co.uk will ensure I see your post and get it included in the Save Lincs Library links round-up, Facebook page, and so on.

I've heard quite a few authors say things like "Well, I'll help, but I don't know what good I can do." Having heard Patrick Rothfuss state that he still considers himself a newbie during a panel on world building at WFC, I suspect a lot of authors underestimate their impact on people. Please don't. Every word of support matters a great deal to the campaign, and to those communities that are threatened with losing their libraries. You are all more awesome than you suspect. 

The Facebook page is here.

Friday 1 November 2013

World Fantasy Con Report, Day One

Wotcher all,

So, here a day so far. Good times.

GUYS THIS EVENT IS LIKE HUGE there's thousands of people here, and loads of panels, and people wandering around and oh my god.

We managed to scramble onsite about 2pm yesterday, rushed to get our stand set up (Molcher above looking pretty), and sold books for a couple of hours.

I was in a panel, "When does copy-editing go too far?" (Hint: The answer is DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? I'M A FUCKING EDITOR! ON YOUR KNEES, WORM!), and was predictably fabulous. I shared the stage with Jo Fletcher, Oliver Johnston, Rina Weisman, Laurel Hill and Ramsay Campbell. Illustrious old company.

Dinner was Wagamama's after a fruitless search for the many bijou restaurantettes we knew Brighton was full of, then booze until real late.

Honestly, I think the barman spiked my beer with alcohol. I'm a trifle disappointed. Bit of a hangover.

Today was bookselling and more being fabulous. Clifford Beal showed me an awesome pizza stand in town for lunch. And now I have no hangover, which all said is better than having a hangover. Quite relieved.

There are parties waiting; will update tomorrow.