Got your attention, didn’t I? Actually, I just want to highlight a couple of posts at Matthew Yglesias (thanks to Jeremy Osner for sending me there).
Slut, Slut, Slut… links to several bloggers “discussing whether or not ‘it’s liberating to be a slut’ was the message of Sex and the City” and says “pardon me for being such a fuddy-duddy here but I really don’t think ‘slut’ is a word people should use.” Well, pardon me for being a wild-eyed permissive logophile, but I don’t like the very concept of “words that shouldn’t be used.” Words, like anything else, should be used with caution, but every word has its place. It’s too bad people are offended by words, but the price of avoiding all possible offense is too high.
2) On the other hand, I stand side by side with my brother-in-arms Matthew in decrying the common misuse of “Literally.” I can’t better his formulation:
This is a classic complaint, but last night around 7PM after the Vermont polls closed, Judy Woodruff said that Howard Dean “literally started a wildfire in American politics.”… Suppose Dean had gone out on the campaign trail and done an event on—say—environmental policy out in the woods somewhere. Suppose there was then some kind of electrical accident with the sound-amplification equipment which caused sparks and a fire. One would want to report the fact that “Howard Dean started a wildfire on the campaign trail.” Since “wildfire” is often used metaphorically in political contexts it would be nice to somehow indicate that you mean he really and truly started an actual wildfire. One good way to do this would be to say “Howard Dean literally started a wildfire.” This move—indicating that you mean something literally when, given the context, you might have meant it metaphorically—becomes unavailable when people use “literally” as a meaningless intensifier.
I anticipate the objection “But LH, you are a wild-eyed permissive descriptivist, who thinks usage is all!” That’s true, in general, but everything has exceptions, and this is one. We’re not talking about extending semantic fields, or tweaking traditional grammar a bit—we’re talking about taking a word whose only, and vital, meaning is ‘not metaphorically’ and using it to mean ‘metaphorically.’ It’s even worse than the ruination of disinterested, because there are other ways to express that sense; the only way to replace literally is with some labored periphrasis like “…and I don’t mean that in a metaphorical sense!” So stop it, all of you, you hear me?
Sigh. I suspect I’m preaching to the choir here, but I had to get that off my chest. We will now resume our normal disinterested descriptivism.