Ben and I escaped our house on Saturday for the few hours between blizzards to go to the MFA, and it was lovely. We saw the “D is for Design” exhibit, Klimt’s Adam and Eve (on loan), Japanese paper toys, cool glass sculptures in the contemporary art area, “Nature, Sculpture, Abstraction, and Clay,” and “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” Each of these exhibits was on the small side, just one room each (and the Klimt was just one painting, though it was surrounded by Oskar Kokoschka’s Two Lovers and a few Egon Schiele paintings and drawings).
In the “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” room, however, I encountered a problem (click to enlarge the photo below).
The word “literally” was used twice in five sentences. I’ll give them the second one; I’ve never been to the Scharfs’ home, and it may well be that there are fascinating things to look at “quite literally everywhere,” even the bathroom. (Incidentally, I once saw a Klimt print hanging sideways in someone’s bathroom. Not that the Scharfs’ would ever do such a thing, though it would be fascinating if they did.) But that first “literally”? No. The part of the collection in that room in the MFA was not “literally” the tip of the iceberg, or it would have been the tip of an iceberg. And, fortunately, it just wasn’t that cold in there. (I couldn’t even make a good Titanic joke, because the model ships were safely two rooms away.)
I know that language is not static; it changes over time. I know that in at least one case (the word “cleave”) a word may mean one thing (“to adhere closely; to remain faithful”) and its opposite (“to split or divide; to cut off; sever”). I know that language changes and evolves because of the way people use it, whether or not that usage is accepted as correct at the time (usually it’s not). But there are plenty of good alternatives for what people mean when they misuse the word “literally”: try “figuratively,” or “metaphorically,” or “as it were,” or just use a metaphor or a simile or an analogy or a stronger adjective or adverb to make your point.
Or put a damn iceberg in the room, if that’s literally what you mean.
But. On the plus side, this exhibit had a model of the Ford Fairlane, the car that Henry DeTamble’s parents drive in The Time Traveler’s Wife, and it does indeed have magnificent fins:
And we got out of our house for a few hours, and ate a delicious lunch at the cafe, and tried out these green chenille beanbag chairs, which are even comfier than they look:
All in all it was quite a good outing. It was nice to see some color, and it was even nice to get out of pajamas and into real clothes (well, jeans), and I expect we’ll go back again in the spring when the Da Vinci exhibit goes up. If spring ever comes.