Little or no chance

SAMPLE 1: “Every available space in the Onike area of Yaba was taken up as close relations, family members, spiritual children/members of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministry, MFM, from across the globe, religious leaders, traditional rulers, politicians struggled for parking space to pay their last respect to a fallen vibrant soul, who literarily lit up wherever she went while here, late Mama Janet Olukoya (nee kuti).”(Olukoya’s Mom Goes Home in Blaze of Glory, Sunday Vanguard, 1 September, 2019)

Let’s pay attention to the adverb literarily which occurs in the following context: “who literarily lit up wherever she went.” 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.

No bomb explosion at South African High Commission ― FG

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, 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: “Many of our men of God believe they are standing so much and that they can never fall; so they expose themselves to so much than they can handle.”(How Fatoyinbo Got it Wrong, Sunday Vanguard, 7 July, 2019)

I draw readers’ attention to the word than which occurs in the context: “so much than they can handle.” How is the word than used? It is used in conjunction with a comparative adjective or adverb morphologically marked as –er: better, higher, bigger, slower, brighter, stronger, healthier, trimmer, etc. In many other cases, the word more is employed where the morphological change is unacceptable. Without one of these options, the word than cannot be used.

The word than can also be used when it is preceded by the word rather. Now read the following sentences: 1) A humble man is greater in the sight of God than an arrogant man. 2) Wealth is far better than poverty. 3) The lady is more brilliant than her husband. 4) This film is far more interesting than the previous one. 5) I would rather pass the night here than travel late. 6) She is a better writer than any other member of the class.

It should be clear that the form than is used with the comparative degree of adjectives and adverbs. But the word worst is not a comparative but a superlative degree. It is used where three or more entities are being compared. Other examples of the superlative degree are: best, greatest, biggest, easiest, highest, shortest, simplest, slowest, richest, etc.

Now read the following sentences: 1) Diseases are the worst enemies of human beings. 2) Aeroplanes are the fastest means of transportation in modern times. 3) In terms violent crimes, this is the worst part of the city to live in. 5) It has been speculated that this is the deepest part of this river. 6) The lion is one of the rarest animals. 7) Have you ever been to the busiest part of the town? 8) Miserliness is one of the worst vices one can think of. 9) Chemical weapons are arguably the deadliest invention of the modern man. 10) Chief Olusegun Obasanjo is popularly regarded as one of the luckiest Nigerians that ever lived.

It should be obvious that the word more is missing in the context under consideration. At any rate, the structure should read: “so much more than they can handle.”

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