FORT BLISS, TEXAS – Major Sean O’Sullivan, the new executive officer of 1-42 Air Defense Artillery Battalion, has made it his primary mission in life to stamp out the misuse of the word “literally” among his staff officers and subordinate leaders within the battalion.
O’Sullivan’s first salvo in this campaign came last Tuesday in the form of a signed and scanned memorandum sent to all 1-42 ADA staff officers and company commanders, with both the battalion and brigade commanders carbon copied. The memorandum went into some detail on how the XO saw an increase in the misuse of the word “literally” throughout the formation and encouraged all battalion personnel to avoid using it “in e-mails, military memos, or even off-duty hours if [they] do not know how to use it properly.”
Other parts of the letter indicated how seriously O’Sullivan takes the situation: “1-42 ADA is a professional organization that is represented to both internal and external organizations and agencies by our words, both in text and orally. When one of our team says they ‘literally shit themselves laughing,’ it reflects negatively on this command. Has anyone ever actually shit himself or herself from laughing then had to change their filthy pants? That is what ‘literally shitting oneself’ means.”
In the memo’s next paragraph, O’Sullivan writes: “I recently heard a battery commander during a safety brief say, ‘You guys need to stay safe. Like, literally, this is very important to me and the first sergeant.’ This sort of usage makes no sense. Could something ever be ‘figuratively’ important? The use of ‘literally’ in this context adds no value and serves only to waste our Soldiers’ [sic] time.”
Other members of 1-42 ADA do not share the XO’s opinion. Command Sergeant Major Edwin Merrill, who holds a master’s degree in applied linguistics from the University of Massachusetts Boston, believes that O’Sullivan’s obsession with the word “literally” shows an inability to accept the changing nature of language.
“The misuse of ‘literally’ can get annoying I guess,” Merrill told Duffel Blog, “but language is always evolving. The good Major needs to understand that. If I wanted to sharp-shoot, I could point out he used ‘their’ as a gender-neutral, singular pronoun in his memo. He also says ‘less’ when he means ‘fewer,’ but I don’t get up in his shit. Don’t get me started on how often he misuses the word ‘ironic.’ Maybe he should worry about the [Unit Status Report] and 026 [deadline report].”
Captain Jose Barraza, the commander of Bravo Battery, was more frank in his criticism of the XO. “Major Sully sent off that memo to all of us and cc:ed our rater and senior rater. Maybe I should have ‘replied all’ and pointed out that he used the word ‘whom’ when he should have used ‘who.’ And he’s a jackass about ellipses. Fucking toolbag.”
When he responded to an email from TDB, O’Sullivan stuck to his guns. “The way these staff officers and commanders use ‘literally,’ you would think it was like the word ‘smurf’ in that they use it to mean anything they want. It has a very specific meaning and they make themselves look unprofessional by using it incorrectly since grammar and usage are crucial to the profession of arms. Between you and I, I only cc:ed the BC and BDE CDR to make sure they knew I was serious about this.”