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A literal answer for Mr. Speech

Plus: How to turn your girlfriend into a sports fan.

by Dear Jon
July 19, 2001

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A literal answer for Mr. Speech_Dear Jon-Plus: How to turn your girlfriend into a sports fan. ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon or Jon Deer,

"Call your mother" three times during one Horoscope reading??? Do you have some kind of fixation? How often do YOU call your mother? Or should I ask, "WHAT do you call your mother?"

In closing, you should know that all the empty-nester mothers who read your column say "Keep up the
good work."

Just call me "Looong Distance"

Dear Distance,

Now you've done it. You've given Jon Deer all the encouragement he needs to keep up this Chaldean nonsense. If the Partial Observer becomes just another hotlink for Alien Abductees, New Age tree worshipers and Disney executives, it will all be YOUR fault. Thank you for your letter.


Dear Jon,

Why do people say "literally" when they mean "figuratively," as in "I literally died when he told me."?

Mr. Speech

Dear Speech,

Because people are stupid. Unless, of course, you just assume that people mean "figuratively" when they mean "literally." Suppose the person really HAD died, and needed to be revived? Then you would literally have egg all over your face, huh? But I give you the benefit of the doubt.

As far as speech goes, there is little that can be done in the English language for emphasis, aside from profanity, which communicates sensibly. This may be true in most other languages as well. In many other languages, the convention of a double negative does not negate the negativity, but emphasizes it. And it would be hard to take the most colorful of Arab curses literally, as in this inexact quotation of Corporal Klinger from M*A*S*H: "May the fleas from a thousand camels make their homes in your underwear." Even if it is meant literally, it cannot really be meant literally, but the Arab speaker can literally mean it.

So the term "literally" is meant to emphasize the emotional or physical condition felt by the speaker in relation to a particular event or circumstance. If the speaker had literally frozen his butt off, but still has a butt while speaking to you, the idea being communicated is that the speaker felt very cold everywhere. It would be best to spare us the redundancy and leave it at, "I froze my butt off." Obviously, the presence of the butt demonstrates the exaggeration. To heighten the exaggeration to say "literally" is not as illogical as it is redundant. Yet,to say "I froze my butt off, figuratively speaking," is even more redundant. Of course the person is speaking figuratively, whether or not they say they said "literally." That's the point.

This is why that finnicky breed of people who are self-proclaimed "language/logic police" are typically found, by the general population, to be boring as thumbtacks. Literally.


Dear Jon,

How do I convince my girlfriend about the importance of sporting events? Not all sporting events, just the basics; football season, the first few and last few weeks of baseball, hockey and basketball, and, of course, the playoffs! She seems to think there are other things that are more important. How do I show her the light?

Sports Fan

Dear Fan,

Women think that sports are silly. The only women who are impressed by, or enjoy sports, are those who detect, under the pretend conditions of "sport," the ability of a male to execute a task with motivation and skill. A guy who can take it inside and gracefully dance into a lay-up, might actually be able to toss his underwear into the hamper without it hanging over the sides. This second skill, "hamper dunk," is much sexier to most women than any skill evident on the basketball court.

Before you convert your girl-friend to sports fanaticism, there are some things you need to do to convince her that sports fans are more than chauvinistic, couch-potato jerks.

1. Get your own snacks and beer. Your girlfriend does not want to become your waitress at your own personal sports pub. Get out of the chair yourself.

2. Since you are not yet married, take this tip. When she comes over, let her see you doing something domestic while the game is on. For example, iron your shirts for the week while you watch football. She will be impressed at your efficiency in being able to accomplish a worthwhile task while you entertain yourself. This will HELP HER TO SEE THE VALUE in an afternoon spent watching football.

3. Whenever possible, make the viewing of a sports event, a party. Then it's a party, see, and she can be in the next room with other girl-friends.

4. Be sure, when you go to a stadium with her, that you let her bring everything she wants that will help her feel comfortable, including: Rain gear, sunscreen, books or magazines to read, binoculars to look around at other people.

Before you know it, with these behaviors, you will have made a sports fan out of your girl-friend!

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