Sample 1: “…he is the scion of an illustrious public figure in Nigeria who literarily was born and fed with a silver spoon…”(FFK, the drug addled thug in designer wears, News Opera, 29 August, 2020)
Let’s pay attention to the adverb literarily which occurs in the following context: “who literarily was born and fed with a silver spoon.” 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.
7) High blood pressure literally means that the blood is under an unusual pressure.
8) During the second half, their players were literally being tossed like kids.
9) By the age of over one hundred, an adult literally becomes a baby attitudinally.
10) In heaven, will the members of every family literally re-unite?
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 ten 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, literary merits are qualities or values associated with literature; literary writers write poems, plays and novels; literary appreciation 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: literal translation; literary language; literary scholars; literary language. At any rate, let the word literally replace literarily in the context under review.
Sample 2: “The programme seeks to employ about 774,000 youth for three months and they would be engaged in unskilled jobs such as street sweeping, clearing drainages, controlling traffic and road construction among others.”(Buhari names Minister of Labour…Sahara Reporters, 17 September, 2020)
The word drainages (notice the plural form) occurs in the following context: clearing drainages.
This usage confusion arises, I guess, because the reporter mistakes the drainage facilities for the system or process which the word drainage properly denotes. Yes, drainage is about the system or process of making water or any other liquid flow through an appropriate channel or facility. Drainage does not refer to a structure or facility; it is an uncountable noun denoting the process or system of movement of liquid.
It should be obvious that what the reporter has in mind when he uses the word drainage is the concrete structure, the facility, the water pathway being constructed for the drainage system. Many Nigerians frequently pluralize the word drainage. But it is an uncountable noun which, typically, should not be pluralized.
Please read the following sentences:
1) Given the poor drainage, erosion will damage this road within a short time.
2) Engineers are already thinking about ways of improving the efficiency of the drainage system.
3) I am not an engineer, but it should be obvious to any observer that the drainage facility is faulty.
4) I think it will be useful to construct the drainage facility before the major construction begins.
5) Water gathers on this portion of the road because of inadequate drainage.
6) The drains seem to be blocked somewhere along the line.
7) The problem is that the drains are not big enough.
8) The drains connected to the central drainage system are either broken or blocked.
The important issue here is that the noun drainage should never be used in its plural form because it is an uncountable noun. In addition, it should not be modified by the indefinite article, a or its synonym. However, the word drain, referring to the pipe connected to the drainage system, is a countable noun and can be pluralised. For this reason, the following sentence is faulty: “The governor has given approval for the construction of more effective *drainages.” The sentence should read: “The governor has given approval for the construction of a more effective drainage structure/facility/system/channels.”
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