Literally, I’m present, and not presently.

Woe-Is-I-3rdedFor this week’s “Word Wednesday” feature let’s return to one of our newer sources for helping us expand and improve on our vocabulary! Its title is Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, authored by Patricia O’Conner (Riverhead Books, New York, c.1996). As we pointed out in our earlier post on this book,  it also includes a section on words – chapter five – with the catchy title “Verbal Abuse: Words on the Endangered List”.

Today we take a few more abused adverbs from the first part of this chapter, under the heading “What’s the Meaning of This?”, where O’Conner treats some frequently misused words. This includes the much abused words “literally” and “presently”. Below is her entry for these words (slightly edited) – complete with a little wit and humor. But all with a serious purpose: to correct our misuse of these common adverbs.

literally. This means actually or to the letter. (Martha Stewart sprayed a dried bouquet with metallic paint, literally gilding the lily.) Literally is often confused with figuratively, which means metaphorically or imaginatively. No one says figuratively, of course, because it doesn’t have enough oomph.

I am reminded of a news story, early in my editing career in Iowa, about a Pioneer Days celebration, complete with covered wagons and costumed ‘settlers.’ Our reporter proposed to say that spectators ‘were literally turned inside out and shot backwards in time.’ …We should have sent a photographer along.


presently. Misuse strikes again. If Kramer tells his landlord he’s presently sending his rent, does that mean… uh… the check is in the mail, or the check really is in the mail? The answer is, don’t hold your breath. Presently doesn’t mean now or at present. It means soon, before long, any minute (hour, day) now, forthwith, shortly, keep your shirt on, faster than you can say Jack Robinson, or when I’m… good and ready (pp85-86).

Published in: on August 6, 2014 at 1:37 PM  Leave a Comment  

The Revelation’s Potent, Imaginative Style

Reversed Thunder - EPetersonThis past weekend I picked up in a local thrift store a used copy of Eugene H. Peterson’s book on the NT book of Revelation, titled Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination (Harper & Row, 1988). While one may differ with Peterson’s theology at points (he is “moderate” Presbyterian), he is a good writer and one can appreciate his emphasis on profiting from the Bible’s variety of literature and style.

In this work in which he addresses the last book of the Bible and all its “last words” (his chapter headings read like this: “The Last Word on Scripture”, “The Last Word on Christ”, “The Last Word on the Church”, etc.), Peterson comments on the striking character of Revelation’s style in his introduction. Since this too relates to how words are used, not merely in literature in general, but in the Bible specifically, it is fitting for this “Word Wednesday”.

What walking through Maryland forests does to my bodily senses, reading the Revelation does to my faith perceptions. For I am quite as dull to the marvelous word of Christ’s covenant as I am to his creation. ‘O Lord, and shall I ever live at this poor dying rate?’ Not if St. John’s Revelation has its way. A few paragraphs into the Revelation, the adrenalin starts rushing through the arteries of my faith, and I am on my feet alive, tingling. It is impossible to read the Revelation and not have my imagination aroused. The Revelation both forces and enables me to look at what is spread out right before me, and to see it with fresh eyes. It forces me because, being the last book of the Bible, I cannot finish the story apart from it. It enables me because, by using the unfamiliar language of apocalyptic vision, my imagination is called into vigorous play.

To that he adds this a page later:

God’s faithfulness, new every morning, finds me heavy-lidded. I am thick-skinned to the Spirit’s breeze, dull-eared to the heaven-declared glory of God.

…Is there no vision that can open our eyes to the abundant life of redemption in which we are immersed by Christ’s covenant? Is there no trumpet that can wake us to the intricacies of grace, the profundities of peace, the repeated and unrepeatable instances of love that are under and around and over us? For me, and for many, St. John’s Revelation has done it. Old dogmas are revisioned; familiar lines of scripture are revoiced; ancient moralities are subjected to intense testings from which they emerge glistening and attractive; valued but dusty beatitudes are plunged into waters from which they reappear washed, clean, and ready for fresh use.

And, finally, he says,

I do not read the Revelation to get additional information about the life of faith in Christ. …Everything in the Revelation can be found in the previous sixty-five books of the Bible. The Revelation adds nothing of substance to what we already know. The truth of the gospel is already complete, revealed in Jesus Christ. There is nothing new to say on the subject. But there is a new way to say it. I read the Revelation not to get more information but to revive my imagination (pp.x-xi).

Good food for thought, I believe.

And by the way, that title to the book comes from these lines about prayer from the English poet George Herbert:

Prayer [is]…

Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing speare,
The six-dayes world transposing in an houre.