Commonly Misused Words: Literally

August 28, 2008: Issue 253

As the nation turns its attention to Denver, we turn ours to some grammatical quirks at the top of the Democratic ticket.

In his first speech as the vice presidential nominee, Joe Biden demonstrated a fondness for the word literally.To his credit, he used the word correctly. (It means actually. It’s not simply a word of emphasis.) Still, three times in one paragraph and twice in one sentence is a bit much for any adverb. By the eighth time he said it, we were paying more attention to that word than to the content of his speech.

The presidential nominee, Barack Obama, has a habit of repeating the word is unnecessarily. Some examples, all actual quotes from Obama:

  • “The truth is, is that our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when theres not evidence of that in their daily lives.”
  • “The fact is, is that Im mindful that weve got to keep our capital gains tax to a point where we can actually get more revenue.”
  • “Part of my message is, is that both sides of the Atlantic are going to have to do some hard work.”

In all those cases, a single linking verb is enough:

  • The truth is that our challenge is …
  • The fact is that I’m mindful …
  • Part of my message is that …

We believe in equal time here at Style on the Go. The Republicans’ turn is coming.

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