A few weeks ago, PR Daily posted a nice little article titled “8 words that may not mean what you think they mean.” One of the words, unique, is a word-in-residence here at Lexicide. Ms. Brockway’s column received an avalanche of responses, some suggesting words for the next article, others “insisting that the meanings of words change because ‘majority rules.'” In their estimation, literally means “figuratively” because that’s how so many people use it.
First, let’s address this ‘majority rules’ crap. I agree (and have written here) that language evolves. I agree we should roll with the changes and avoid words whose fluid definitions could cause confusion. But just because a gaggle of chowderheads use literally wrong by no means makes them “the majority.” Lexicide doesn’t cover words that have moved on ̶ words like gay, nice (which once meant “foolish” and was used as an insult) or enthusiastic (my favorite ̶ it started life meaning “possessed by spirits.”). We only fuss about words which a minority of people use incorrectly.
There wouldn’t be controversy about literally, leverage or disinterested if most people agreed on their (wrong) definitions. I argue that this is prima facie evidence that lexicidal maniacs are the outliers, and the rest of us are trying (sometimes failing) to do right by our words. Keep trying. And read “8 more words that may not mean what you think they mean.”
̶ Otto E. Mezzo
P.S.: I also recommend Laura Hale Brockway’s blog Impretinent Remarks.