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"literally" (English)

英語を勉強している方のためのフォーラムです。練習のために英語の文章を投稿してもかまわなく、英語の文法・語彙に関する質問をしてもけっこうです。

RE: "literally" (English)

Postby AJBryant » Wed 05.02.2007 5:07 pm

One man in ten executed, if the author was using the literal meaning of "literal", and knew the literal meaning of "decimate"


Right... and if we use the "modern sloppy" definitions of "literal" and "decimate" -- sigh.

This is why I always argue for precision in writing. If someone writes that in a history book or a text of some sort, how will it be understood, and how will it be relied upon as an "accurate account" if the words are plastic?


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RE: "literally" (English)

Postby HeyItsMatt » Wed 05.02.2007 6:27 pm

Right... and if we use the "modern sloppy" definitions of "literal" and "decimate" -- sigh.

This is why I always argue for precision in writing. If someone writes that in a history book or a text of some sort, how will it be understood, and how will it be relied upon as an "accurate account" if the words are plastic?


Tony


Well, as Yudan said, I think that the use of "literally" as a form of emphasis or exaggeration would not be used in history books since it seems to be a more casual way of speaking. I don't think it hinders communication when it is used in a conversation; when I hear someone say "she literally tore his head off!" it's pretty obvious to me what he's trying to get across, whereas I would be surprised it I read that in a history book.

Also, I'm not sure if this is what rich was saying or not, but when I see "decimated" I do not think "1 men in 10 executed", I think "annihalated" or something along those lines. I would guess that most people would think the same way - the most literal and precise definition of that word is actually the more confusing one, if it is used in a sentence that way. The clearest way for a writer to say that would probably be to just spell out "1 in 10 was killed". I think perhaps it is necessary that a language be flexible and adaptive, as long as people can still communicate clearly.

Not trying to be argumentative or anything by the way, just sharing my thoughts :)
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RE: "literally" (English)

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 05.02.2007 6:38 pm

Well, I think a lot of prescriptivism is nonsense, but criticizing word usage and grammar in formal situations or writing makes more sense than criticizing it for daily speech or message board posts.

And yes, "decimated" means "to destroy a great number or proportion of." The definition of "to select by lot and kill every tenth person of" is obsolete and is only brought up to criticize the common usage of the word for no good reason. This is yet another instance where everyone uses a word one way, but the prescriptivists would have us use it a different way for no reason. I don't even think this usage of decimate is out of place in formal writing, since nobody uses the older definition nowadays. Even if you tried to use the older definition nobody would know what you're talking about, so this isn't even an issue of precision.
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RE: "literally" (English)

Postby richvh » Wed 05.02.2007 6:44 pm

Well, the original meaning of "decimate" is listed first in my Webster's New World Dictionary (Second College Edition), and is not marked as obsolete (the third definition, to tithe, is marked as obsolete.) I will admit that this dictionary is older than most of the posters here (copyright 1980.) The second definition is, of course, the one Chris cites above.
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RE: "literally" (English)

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 05.02.2007 7:04 pm

Both the 2006 Random House and American Heritage (the dictionaries at dictionary.com) have the first meaning as "to destroy a great part of", although they do point out the disputed usage.

The American Heritage indicates that a usage like "The population was decimated by the war" is more generally acceptable than "My garden was decimated by insects". For me personally, the former type of sentence is in my active spoken vocabulary whereas the latter usage is not, although I hear people say that sometimes.

Do we even need a word to mean "to select by lot and kill every tenth person of"? Who says anything like that?

My problem with complaints of this nature is that they are selectively applied. The word "town" originally referred to the courtyard of a castle, then any walled dwelling place, and only later came to have the modern meaning. But nobody sits around suggesting that "town" only be used for the courtyard of a castle. There are tons of words like this. Why pick on decimate? Just because the "deci" jumps out?

(Surprisingly, "decimate" gets 0 hits on mastertexts.com; I guess that word doesn't have much currency in English literature with any usage. "decimated" brought 3 hits, which still isn't a lot. Bonus: For fun, try searching "from whence" on mastertexts some time.)
Last edited by Yudan Taiteki on Wed 05.02.2007 7:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: "literally" (English)

Postby richvh » Wed 05.02.2007 7:15 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
Do we even need a word to mean "to select by lot and kill every tenth person of"? Who says anything like that?

People writing about Roman military history? (Did any other army ever practice decimation?)
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RE: "literally" (English)

Postby caroline » Wed 05.02.2007 7:22 pm

Well, to add some old Europe evolution to the word decimate :

In 1866 (no typo), Mr Littré wrote a dictionnary so beautiful and complete that it was edited again more than a century later (with a supplement for new words).
So, in 1866, Mr Littré wrote (in french, so any bug in english is mine):
décimer :
1) Word from the roman antiquity :[...] it then explains that, as it was not possible to retaliate against all the culprits, the tenth designated by sort was killed
2) figurative : to kill a part of a great, a certain number of people...
In truth, he wrote a lot more, as he always put quotations after his definition, but I'm a bit lazy at this hour...

So, there has been for quite a long time a figurative use of decimate; the problem may arise when the user does not even imagine that there is a litteral one too...

But, to be fair, are there a lot of people who study latin or speak languages where the literal sense is quite clear ? As a mitigating fact for english speakers, tenth does not make one think of decimo, dixième or decimus.
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RE: "literally" (English)

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 05.02.2007 7:32 pm

richvh wrote:
Yudan Taiteki wrote:
Do we even need a word to mean "to select by lot and kill every tenth person of"? Who says anything like that?

People writing about Roman military history? (Did any other army ever practice decimation?)


OK, I guess, but in that case it's pretty clear what the meaning is (if you know about it). I just think that applying the word "sloppy" any time a word acquires a new meaning is kind of silly.

Why is it OK to use "town" with a sloppy modern definition but not "decimate"? Just because one has a more recent new meaning than the other?
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RE: "literally" (English)

Postby Gundaetiapo » Wed 05.02.2007 7:33 pm

To add to what's been said, I think this disputed use of "literally" does not belong in the formal register or should not be used at times when accuracy is very important (i.e. a newspaper), but that doesn't mean the usage is totally wrong either.


These the same newspapers that go out of their way to make clever puns in headlines where at least one meaning of the pun -- for all puns have at least two -- is a blantant falsehood?

here, literally rolling in wealth would mean rolling in actual money, because "rolling in wealth" generally would be seen as something of a metaphor, and adding "literally" to that would make it a factual or literal statement.


The only person I know who has "literally rolled in wealth" is the scrooge from Duck Tales. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck_tales
Last edited by Gundaetiapo on Wed 05.02.2007 7:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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