Thursday, December 15, 2011

Very true

So this is weird.

We all know that the word "really" can be the adverbial version of "a lot": He was really tall.

We all know that "literally" is often misused as an adverbial version of "a lot": He was literally the tallest man I had ever seen.

And we all know that "very" is the traditionally preferred adverbial version of "a lot": He was very tall.

But did you know they all have the same root meaning? "Really" and "literally" both retain their "actually" sense: It's really going to happen. We're not talking about metaphors here. He's literally going to punch me in the face. "Very" doesn't retain that sense any more, but apparently it used to have the same sense:
1200–50; Middle English  < Anglo-French; Old French verai  (French vrai ) < Vulgar Latin *vērācus,  for Latin vērāx  truthful,equivalent to vēr us true (cognate with Old English wǣr,German wahr  true, correct) + -āx  adj. suffix
Sociolinguists of the World: What does it mean that our words for "a lot" are all related to our words for "actually"?

UPDATE: I just saw this quote from Michael Crichton: "Anyone who says he knows God's intention is showing a lot of very human ego." Since you can't (technically) be more or less human, then I guess we do occasionally use "very" to mean "actually."

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