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  #101  
Old 09-20-2019, 03:42 PM
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"He owns literally a thousand CDs" doesn't mean that he owns precisely 1.000E3 CDs, no more nor less. If the actual number of CDs he owns is actually 1,292 , the statement would still be correct: I can still point to 1000 distinct CDs, all of which are CDs that he owns. If the actual number of CDs that he owns is 997, then the statement "he owns literally a thousand CDs" isn't true, but it is still almost true. If the actual number of CDs he owns is 83, then the statement is extremely untrue.
  #102  
Old 09-20-2019, 05:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
OK, a real-world example where "literally" is ambiguous (I think I encountered this one on this very board):

"He owns literally a thousand CDs".

This might mean that he owns, say, 80 of them, and the speaker is just using "literally" for emphasis. Or it might mean that he's a DJ, and really does own more than 999 CDs. Nor does it help to instead say "He owns a thousand CDs, for reals" or "he actually owns a thousand CDs", because those have the same use as an intensifier that "literally" does.
I agree. The usage I object to is using "literally" as a random intensifier, like saying "I walked into the room and he had, like, literally a thousand CDs!" to mean that he had an awful lot of them, yet that's exactly how it's frequently [mis]used.
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Originally Posted by Miller View Post
And you handle this situation the same way you handle all the other situations where the English language can be ambiguous.

"He owns literally a thousand CDs."
"Do you mean an actual thousand, or just a lot?"
"No, I just meant he owns a lot."
Wait, in a discussion about whether or not a particular statement is ambiguous, your position is that you just resolve it by asking the speaker to clarify it?

If you have to ask for clarification, then it's ambiguous by definition. Which is a consequence of poor language skills and poor usage. And it's pretty hard to ask for clarification if the statement in question is poorly written material in which words like "literally" are thrown about like autumn leaves to serve as random fillers and intensifiers.
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
Oh, and as for "quantum leap": Quantum does not, in any context, mean "small". It means something more akin to "discrete". A quantum leap, in any context, means that you go from one state to another, without passing through any states in between. It's perfectly appropriate to apply it, for instance, to a new product that's 10% better (by some metric) than the previous best product: They didn't have to make a product that was 1%, or 5%, or 9% better along the way.
I agree with this, too. The use of "quantum" in a phrase like "quantum leap" is alleged to be inappropriate because of some misconception that since quantum physics deals with very tiny particles, a "quantum leap" must be something very small whereas it's supposedly used to denote something very large. As I see it, "quantum leap" means a change that is so fundamental that it's transformational -- a discrete jump from one state of things to a different state of things -- the same way that changes in quantum particle states can create completely new phenomena. It's perfectly appropriate to say that the advent of the personal computer and the internet was a quantum leap in public communications and information technology. But it's completely asinine to say that "just thinking about it literally makes my head explode".
  #103  
Old 09-20-2019, 07:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
"He owns literally a thousand CDs" doesn't mean that he owns precisely 1.000E3 CDs, no more nor less. If the actual number of CDs he owns is actually 1,292 , the statement would still be correct: I can still point to 1000 distinct CDs, all of which are CDs that he owns. If the actual number of CDs that he owns is 997, then the statement "he owns literally a thousand CDs" isn't true, but it is still almost true. If the actual number of CDs he owns is 83, then the statement is extremely untrue.
That's not how this works. If I ask you how many CDs you own, and you tell me you own five, and you actually own 297, nobody on earth thinks your answer was correct, even if it's technically correct. In fact, that sort of shit is the basis for childhood riddles.
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