literally

Literally sat alone on an overstuffed Chesterfield sofa, at the annual Gathering of Misappropriated, Misapplied, and Otherwise Corrupted Words, nursing a French 75. She watched the party with apprehension. Her agent had been right; she'd had to come, if only for the sake of networking. She desperately needed some positive PR. The Dictionary Society of North America had fucked her, and they had fucked her good. Writers, linguists, and grammar purists everywhere wanted nothing to do with her - thanks in no small part, she suspected, to this hatchet job. Verbum non grata, that's what she was.

Still, she couldn't shake the feeling that she didn't belong. Most of the secondaries here had officially turned decades, if not centuries ago. They'd had plenty of time to grow into their new meanings. As if to prove her point, a few of the pre-1700s laughed loudly at something Gay said. Literally suspected he killed at these things. So to speak. She crossed her l's and took a sip of her cocktail.

Earlier, one of the halfways had cornered her, asking a million questions about transition. Nonplussed was an elegant word, despite the perpetual knit of her brow, but she was terrified. Wanted to know what the process was like, how long it took, whether there was anything anyone could do to stop it. Literally had been frank. "Nope. Not a blooming thing. Language belongs to the people who use it; we're utterly at their mercy."

"But what about correct usage advocates?"

Literally snorted. "Correct. Go talk to Travesty about correct. He's got stories that will curl your hair." Nonplussed shuddered. She'd heard about the abuse Travesty had suffered after 9/11. He'd never been quite the same since.

"I just...I don't understand," stammered Nonplussed. Non plus literally means not more. No further. It's Latin!" she cried. "Don't they still teach Latin?" Perhaps unwilling to wait for an answer she already knew, the adjective excused herself, s's rustling as she swept off to the powder room. Literally just sat and drained the last of her drink. Everyword handled transition - or as her agent called it, "upgrading" - differently, she guessed.

Their exchange had caught the attention of several others, some of whom spoke in low voices on the far side of the room. They glanced her way every so often, clearly discussing her plight. Verbum non grata indeed. She sighed and fingered the lemon twist in her glass.

"Supposedly and Supposably, at your service." Literally lifted her eyes to see a pair of tall, dapper, impish looking words looming above her. Old French, maybe Middle English? It was hard to say. It was also hard to see much difference between them.

"Cousins," explained Supposedly, seeing her bemusement.

"Though these days, you'd think we were fraternal twins," added Supposably.

She extended her hand. "So nice to meet you. Are you..."

"Secondaries?" supplied Supposably. "Dear me, no. Just good old-fashioned confuseds."

Literally pursed her limps in sympathy. "That must be very frustrating."

"Ah, it's not so bad," said Supposedly. He snapped shut the clasp on a sleek silver cigarette case, offering her a smoke which she declined. Passing a cigarette to his companion and lighting one for himself, he went on. "You get used to it. Rather fun sometimes, actually. Can't tell you how many first dates we've derailed," he said with a wink.

"Supposedly, you're terrible." Supposably giggled, careful to aim his smoky exhalations away from Literally's face. "Really though, could be worse. Have you seen Cheeky? She's an absolute mess. Running around, shoving a lingerie catalog under everyone's noses. 'Honey,' I told her. 'You're going about this all wrong. You've got to own it.'" He examined his lengthening ash. "You'd think a word like Cheeky would have a better sense of humor."

"I don't follow," confessed Literally. "What's happened to her?"

Supposedly waved a hand impatiently. "Hardly anything worth crying over. Some fashion designers started using Cheeky to refer to, you know, knickers and whatnot that show a bit of, well--"

"Ass cheek," Supposably finished, raising his eyebrows dramatically. "Cheeky, in addition to saucy, audacious, and bold, now means literally exhibiting cheek."

Was it Literally's imagination, or had he deliberately emphasized that antepenultimate word? In any case, she was definitely going to need another cocktail...