ALOTT5MA FRIDAY GRAMMAR RODEO TUESDAY YEAR-END CHRIS TRAEGER FAREWELL EDITION: Notable smart person Steven Pinker talks a lot about grammar with The Atlantic:
Porch: What do you think about the flagrant misuse of the word “literally”? Does it literally make your head explode?
Pinker: [Laughs.] It’s understandable why people do it. We are always in search of superlatives, of ways of impressing upon our hearer that something that happened is noteworthy or even extraordinary. And the words we use to signal that eventually lose their meaning.
Porch: Like “awesome.”
Pinker: “Awesome” is a recent example. In the UK, “brilliant” is used for the most banal observations. Before that, words like “terrific,” meaning inspiring terror, “wonderful,” inspiring wonder, “fabulous,” worthy of fable. We see the fossils of dead superlatives that our ancestors overused the way we overuse “awesome.” “Literally” is a victim of a similar type of inflation. The figurative use doesn’t mean the language is deteriorating. Hyperbole has probably been around as long as language has been around....
Porch: Does the comma go inside the closed quotation mark or outside?
Pinker: If I ruled the world, it would go outside.