Literally or Figuratively?

Literally or Figuratively?

“All Tied Up”

Figuratively, this expression means that one is too busy, far too consumed with the task(s) at hand, to be able to do what is otherwise asked of them. If taken literally, this phrase means something quite different!

Consider this scenario, for example: A coworker approaches Justine and asks her to help arrange chairs for the fundraising event.  “I’m sorry,” Justine replies. “You know I almost never say no, but right now I’m all tied up.”

If Justine is “tied up” figuratively, this means that she is too busy to help with the fundraiser.  If Justine is “tied up” literally, this means that she is bound; she is physically restrained.

Now let’s explore another expression:  “My hands are tied.”

Suppose the same coworker asks Justine if she can donate money from the library budget to support the fundraiser. Justine replies that she cannot, stating: “I’m sorry, but my hands are tied.”

If this statement is interpreted figuratively, it means that – despite her best intentions and deepest desires – Justine does not have the agency or ability to grant the request. After saying “my hands are tied,” she might also explain: “The funds are already allocated to another purpose.”

If Justine’s response is to be interpreted literally, however, this means that Justine’s hands are physically bound; they are tied together such that she cannot move them. Her statement “my hands are tied” might be followed by: “It feels good when the rope burns me, when it rubs roughly against my skin.”

Figurative interpretations operate through metaphor, whereas literal ones imply overt manifestation: the exact words stated are actualized in physical reality.

Justine prefers literal interpretations to figurative ones.

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