“What did I say? Did I start that sentence … with … ‘actually’?”
Not Kathie York, the grammar doyenne! Surely not.
Unfortunately, Mrs. York’s Mr. York – with a twinkle in his eye because he’d caught me in a word-filler faux pas – corroborated it:
“Yes, you began that sentence with ‘actually’.”
I’ve been known to start over to say things properly. It had been a long time since I’d done that for ‘actually.’
How did this happen?!
What was the deal? The deal was – and I hope I don’t ruin the series for anyone – I’d discovered a great TV show, Stargate SG-1. I was binge watching the entire series as quickly as I had spare cash to purchase the boxed sets.
The problem? Carter begins about every 10th sentence with “Actually….” Since we speak what we hear and I was overdosing on this hated ‘filler word,’ it crept back into my vocabulary. Sigh.
For the most part, ‘actually’ and ‘literally’ are interchangeable. Unfortunately, they are most often used in senseless ways. See what you think of these:
“I was literally (actually) embarrassed to death.”
“He’s actually (literally) from another planet.”
“The walls literally (actually) started closing in on me.”
So … what’s the problem?
The first example tells us either there are ghosts or we see dead people (and Bruce Willis showed us how that can turn out). Yer talkin’ to me, so I’m assumin’ yer alive.
The second reminds me of a man in our town, but I’m pretty sure that’s just rumor.
With that last one, I’m envisioning the rebels inside the room-sized trash compactor in the original Star Wars movie. I’m just sayin’.
These are legal
Let’s leave ‘actually’ and ‘literally’ at the door unless we’re voicing a cliché which happens to be true. For example:
- “It’s hot enough out here to actually fry an egg on the sidewalk.” The newscaster demonstrated, cracking – yep! – an egg onto the pavement before a million viewers. And that puppy cooked, sunny side up!
- “The check is literally in the mail,” when it is on its way.
- “The television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine literally started off with a bang.” It did! We walked right into a space battle.
Your Takeaway: Obnoxious ‘fillers,’ in our speaking and writing, detract from our message. They also cost us money when a proofreader calculates our bill.
Final Note: Pausing for a moment, as we start speaking, is easier than self-editing during a conversation. Let’s think: “Do I need this word?” If the answer is “No,” dump it.