Tag Archives: literally

Off and on

Over the weekend, while watching television news, I heard two different people, in unrelated stories, describing realization processes. One said, “Suddenly a light bulb went off in my head.” (At least he didn’t say the light bulb literally went off in his head.) The other said, “All of a sudden, it was like a light bulb went off.”

Am I wrong or, when one has idea—or when something comes to light—the light bulb goes on?

This morning, I set out to research this. What I found upon searching “light bulb went off” were one or two blogs addressing this very subject, and a long list of entries comprising serious text in which the expression is used incorrectly.

There’s no mistaking the imagery. A light goes on, things become clear. One has an idea or, appropriate for the season, epiphany. This makes perfect sense, so why are light bulbs going off in so many heads?

Maybe we can remember it this way: Lights go on and sounds go off.

Sirens go off, alarms go off, firecrackers and explosives go off.

Or maybe it’s not so simple. When my alarm goes off in the morning, doesn’t it really go on?

Either way, if any of us is ever interviewed about a brilliant idea—and if we choose to use the light bulb image—let’s  remember how to use it in such a way that our audience still thinks we’re brilliant. And let’s remember that also means not saying “literally.”


Filed under All Things Wordish, Marketing/Advertising/PR, News, Technology and Social Media

A game of imagination

Hey kids, it’s game time again.  Look and listen around you for misuse of the word “literally,” then take a moment to consider the image.  The following are examples my friends, family and I have heard over the years.  They have been stashed away in an imaginary treasure chest, until now.

“Our salesmen are literally walking encyclopedias.”

“I was literally glued to the television.”

“Books were literally flying off the shelves.”

“The words literally jumped off the page.”

“I was literally caught with my pants down.”

Ah, and to discover there’s a blog devoted solely to misuse of the word that, while not updated in a few months, illustrates (literally!) what such phrases would look like, including “he literally charmed the pants off of everyone,” as well as a spokesperson’s comment about Sarah Palin, “the world is literally her oyster.”  Take a look and let’s hope the blogger resumes soon with regular posts.

If you’ll excuse me, I literally have to fly.

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Filed under All Things Wordish