A few years ago, shortly after coming back from my year abroad in Japan, I was asked by my Japanese teacher to explain a few of the differences between how my UK university looks after our exchange students and how I was looked after by my Japanese university. The point was that in the UK, students were left to fend for themselves with little help from the university, but in Japan they hold your hand every step of the way. My teacher agreed with me, and marched me to the head of languages’ office to report my findings. I was feeling pretty important – my opinions were being taken into account, look at me go! So I stood there and repeated my observations, then added at the end to conclude my short piece “so, they literally wipe your bum for you over there”.
Oh dear. Yeah, I didn’t sound very big and clever. Bless my little cotton socks. To make matters worse, my teacher (who likes language tidbits like that) picked up on it and pointed out that Japanese people do not follow UK exchange students to the bathroom on a regular basis. Embarrassing.
I guess I pick up language changes quickly – I remember having the rising lilt in my accent like teenagers (and Australians!) do when I was at uni, I also adopted an American accent while in Japan. Language is a living, constantly changing thing and so when a word like literally starts being used in a new way, I think there is little we can do to stop it, we just have to let it be.
The Guardian has an awesome article today on the ‘misuse’ of the word literally. It’s not such a long one so take a look at it if you have the time - Literally – the much misused word of the moment.