What is your crutch word — you know, that word you, um, use when you need, um, a minute to think while, um, speaking in front of an audience?
It’s OK if you have one — so does Joe Biden. His word, apparently, is “literally.” Jen Doll at The Atlantic reports he used “literally” 9 or 10 times in his speech at the Democratic National Convention (mostly improperly, at that). Enough to get a lightweight drunk in a convention speech drinking game, she notes.
Doll basically, at the end of the day, takes a look at what your chosen crutch word says about you. Here are some of our favorite excerpts:
- At the end of the day. If you use the English language’s worst phrase, you are the forward thinker of crutch-word users. You know each day has an end, and some day we will reach it, and therefore this phrase will be relevant, except really it’s not. See also ultimately.
- Um. (Also, er, ah, uh, or any guttural noise you might make as your brain clicks into gear and onto an actual word.) You are not very good at giving speeches, and listening to you can be painful, but that doesn’t mean you’re not a very nice person.
- Honestly. The frequency with which you deploy this word is inversely related to the frequency with which you are actually honest.
- Literally. You may be Joe Biden, who used the word so frequently last night that the Obama campaign actually, apparently, reportedly, “took out an ad on the term literally on Twitter, so that searches for the term turn up a promoted tweet by @BarackObama.”
Doll does note that Merriam-Webster editor Peter Sokolowski defends Biden’s improper use of “literally” as hyperbolic, a form derived from “high brow literary contexts.” She writes:
“… including by Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby, even: ”Lift him out,’ said Squeers, after he had literally feasted his eyes in silence upon the culprit.’ Dryden in 1687 complained that his ‘daily bread is litt’rally implor’d’ and Pope in 1708 wrote ‘Euery day with me is literally another yesterday for it is exactly the same.’ You know, Dryden, Pope, Dickens, Biden.”
The contrary use of “literally,” actually, has quite a rich history, as it were. For those of you word-nerds, we literally reached back into the archives and found this historical chronicle from Oxford English Dictionary editor-at-large Jesse Sheidlower.