Listening to Joe Biden give a speech literally makes my head explode

I liked Biden’s speech at the Democratic National Convention.  But he should leave the ad-libbing to Bill Clinton.  His prepared text, which you can read here, is fine.  But his ad libs showed a strange, almost obsessive penchant for the word literally. As a blogger for the Washington Post put it:

At the beginning of the speech, which went on only slightly less long than it seemed to go on, Joe spoke about his love for his wife. But as the speech went on it became clear where his true affections lay: nestled around the word “literally.”

Here is the text as delivered.  I count ten occurrences of literally. Sometimes he used it correctly; sometimes he used it incorrectly.  It didn’t seem to matter to Joe.  It served as an all-purpose intensifier with which to punch up the speech.  At one point the text says:

My fellow Americans, we now find ourselves at the hinge of history. And the direction we turn is in your hands.

But here Joe doubled down on his favorite word and said: “And the direction we turn is not figuratively, is literally in your hands.”  Yikes.  (By the way, double down has become a trendy political term.  Here is an article on Romney doubling down on his initial response to the latest trouble in the Middle East. At least it doesn’t say that Romney was literally doubling down.)

Of course, complaining about the misuse of literally is just pedantry, as well as a lost cause.  Here is xkcd, as usual making the point perfectly:

In which Joe Biden tests the limits of my support

Here is a report of Joe Biden speaking down in Provincetown:

Biden honed in on the LGBT issues during his campaign speech at the Pilgrim Monument and Museum, which is located in a prominent gay community in Cape Cod. “If I had to use one adjective to describe this community it’d be courage,” Biden said. “You have summoned the courage to speak out, to come out. We owe you.”

(First, note the Politico reporter testing the limits of my support by using the phrase “hone in on,” which I’ve considered previously. Also, who says “in Cape Cod”?  Any native would say “on Cape Cod.”  But I digress.)

I’m pretty sure that Biden knows that courage is not an adjective.  And his sentiments are admirable! But geez, every vote counts; let’s think harder about what we’re saying and avoid making the pedants grumpy.

Here is Biden speaking:

image Jamie Citron twitter

Like most vice presidents, Biden is the target of a lot of ridicule; it comes with the territory.  He actually has a compelling biography, especially the heartbreaking story of what happened to his family after he was first elected to the Senate:

On December 18, 1972, a few weeks after the election, Biden’s wife and one-year-old daughter were killed in an automobile accident while Christmas shopping in Hockessin, Delaware. Neilia Biden’s station wagon was hit by a tractor-trailer as she pulled out from an intersection; the truck driver was cleared of any wrongdoing.Biden’s two sons, Beau and Hunter, were critically injured in the accident, but both eventually made full recoveries.Biden considered resigning to care for them; he was persuaded not to by Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and others and was sworn into office from one of their bedsides.The accident left Biden filled with both anger and religious doubt: “I liked to [walk around seedy neighborhoods] at night when I thought there was a better chance of finding a fight … I had not known I was capable of such rage … I felt God had played a horrible trick on me.”

On the other hand, we’ve been blogging about plagiarism lately, and Biden has more than one plagiarism story in his bio. Here is a nuanced (and lengthy) discussion of the topic.