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Relieving and reliving

SAMPLE 1: “The Rivers governorship election, which was criticized by local and international observers, witnessed the largest amount of violence both in its build-up and after the elections, following its nullification by two competent courts, has left the ruling PDP literarily clinging unto straw according to many analysts.”(Rivers Governorship: APC, PDP Back in the Trenches, The Nation, Sunday, December 27, 2015)

The word literarily which occurs in the context, ‘literarily clinging unto straw’ is our sole focus in this excerpt. This word makes absolutely no sense in this context because the reference has nothing to do with literature and the word is morphologically and semantically related to literature.

The adjective literary and the adverb literarily are related to the noun literature. If that is the case, as we are sure it is, it would mean that the reporter intends his statement to be taken in the sense in which words are taken in literature—figuratively, metaphorically. But that would be the exact opposite of what the writer intends.

In the light of this confusion, we need to clarify the usage and meanings of the following words: literal, literally; literary, literarily.

Please read the following sentences: 1) When the Ifa priest said the man was blind, he did not mean it in its literal sense. 2) The word ‘die’ is not to be taken in its literal sense in the sentence, ‘The man dies in every man who is silent in the face of tyranny.’ 3) In its literal sense, light is about physical illumination, something that prevents people from stumbling.

Those sentences illustrate the way the adjective literal is typically used. The word literal is the opposite of metaphorical or figurative. The literal sense of a word is its ordinary sense, the sense in which it is commonly used, without additional ‘colour’ or contextually acquired meaning. For example, if I say, ‘The boy picked up some stones and began to pelt me,’ I have used the word stone in its ordinary or literal or common sense. On the other hand, if I say, ‘The man has a heart of stone’, I have used the word stone not in its ordinary sense but in a figurative or metaphorical sense. The adjective literal invariably carries a sense of contrast whether in an explicit or implicit way with the idea of the figurative or metaphorical sense.

The adverb form of literal is literally. Please read the following sentences: 1) During the June 12 protests, all sectors of the Nigerian life literally came to a standstill. 2) The mountain involved in a volcano will be found to be boiling literally at the time the volcano occurs. 3) The congregation was made up of old men and women and the heads that I saw from the pulpit were literally white. 4) Morally bankrupt, his life almost literally stinks as much as would a septic tank. 5) The news literally broke his heart as he collapsed and died instantly. 6) Wherever he went and whatever he did, his wife was always literally behind him.

Whenever the context may tempt the reader to interpret a pivotal word in its figurative or metaphorical sense, the writer feels under obligation to qualify or define the word with the adjective literal or its adverb literally. For example, the compound word empty-headed is used in its figurative sense, rarely in its literal sense. The common interpretation is likely to be applied to the idea of head and empty in the sentence, ‘His head is almost literally empty.’ To guide the reader, we have brought in the adverb literally. The use of the adverb literally can be explained in this way in the six sentences above.

Now read the following sentences: 1) What are the literary merits of that writing? 2) Some literary writers are also scientists. 3) That is the man who taught me literary appreciation. 4) Must literary style always be colourful or flowery? 5) You have not properly mastered literary language. 6) Some newspapers have sections for literary criticism.

The adjective literary is related to the nouns literature and literacy. We use the adjective for writing in general and literature in particular. Literary arts refers to poetry, drama and prose—those works of art we have in mind when literature is mentioned. In other words, literarymerits are qualities or values associated with literature; literary writers write poems, plays and novels; literaryappreciation is an effort at understanding and evaluating literature; literary language refers to the language associated with literature.

What we have said about the adjective literary is also applicable to the adverb literarily. You could say: ‘The writing is literarily deficient’, by which is meant that the writing does not possess some good qualities of literature.

Do not say: *He was literarily soaked in oil. Rather say: He was literally soaked in oil. Do not say: *The whole town literarily went up in smoke. You should say: The whole town literally went up in smoke. Do not say: *What is the literary meaning of the word? You should say: What is the literal meaning of the word?

Other expressions that may interest readers are: literaltranslation; literary language; literary scholars; literarylanguage.

Sample 2: “An alumna of the University of Wisconsin, USA, where she studied Economics, she relieves her early career days…Reliving her childhood years, George-Taylor says they were laced with lifelong lessons which she will forever treasure.”(Only the Paranoid Survive…The Sun, March 27, 2016)

Let’s focus attention on the words relieves and reliving both of which occur in the following contexts respectively: “she relieves her early career days”; “reliving her childhood years.” We don’t need to have special linguistic or reading skills to know that both words mean: trying to recall and re-enact and attempt to re-experience an earlier known experience. It is a surprise, therefore, that the reporter has provided two forms for the same word.

The fact is that he has ignorantly presented two different words as variants of the same word! The word he needs for both contexts is relive: relives and reliving.

One of the challenging and intriguing features of the English spelling system is the fact that, often, two markedly different words can be differentiated in writing by only one letter, present in the one, but absent in the other.

The word relieve is about comfort that comes after pain or reduction in pain. The noun form is relief. Let’s start by illustrating the usage of the noun form. Please read the following sentences: 1) Powerful as the pain killer is reputed to be, it failed to bring the expected the relief. 2) The joy of seeing a newborn baby is a relief that often overwhelms the pain that accompanies childbirth. 3) It was a great relief to realize that her husband was not one of the victims of the vicious attack. 4) Relief came from various quarters to the victims of the flood disaster. 5) When the policemen arrived, we breathed a sigh of relief. 6) The relief provided by the air-conditioned car more than compensated for the hours spent in the scorching sun.

Now let’s illustrate the usage of the verb form: 1) I was greatly relieved when I heard that she had arrived safely. 2) Every drug that relieves pain is believed by medical experts to have one side effect or the other. 3) As a way of relieving stress, he plays football every evening. 4) Although the cup of milk did not fill me, it at least relieved my hunger slightly. 5) The presence of the children relieved me of the boredom and loneliness that I had often complained of. 6) The boy stood up, walked towards her mother, and relieved her of one of the bags she was carrying.

Now to relive an experience is to remember and imagine an experience one once had with such clarity that it seems one is going that experience again. Please read the following sentences: 1) As she narrated her experience as a rape victim, I had that strange feeling that I was reliving my own experience. 2) Each time we watch the film, we relive our experience of the civil war. 3) Adults watching children at play would no doubt relive their childhood life. 4) Strangely enough, as I narrated the story, the old emotions were coming up, an unmistakable sign that I was reliving that dark episode of my life. 5) There are novels that would give you the feeling that you are reliving aspects of your own life. 6) The widow frequently relives the gruesome murder of her husband before her very eyes.