Nothing awakens the inner grammarian in some people quite like the word "literally," especially when used to mean "figuratively." The utterance is so infuriating to some that a New York bar has banned customers from using the word "literally." Continental, the East Village bar, posted a sign on its door saying those caught using the word “must leave.” (Bustle reached out to bar owners for comment but did not receive a response at the time of publication.)
The new policy caught the internet’s attention after EV Grieve shared a photo of the sign on Twitter Wednesday morning. According to Grub Street, the sign has been on Continental’s door for five or six days. The sign in full reads:
“Sorry but if you say the word “LITERALLY” inside Continental you have five minutes to finish your drink and then you must leave. If you actually start a sentence with “I literally” you must leave immediately!!! This is the most overused, annoying word in the English language and we will not tolerate it. Stop Kardashianism now!”
Bar owner Trigger Smith tells Grub Street the sign is intended to be tongue-in-cheek. However, he does admit he doesn’t like the word, particularly because of how widespread its misuse has become. “[I]t’s not just millennials,” he said to Grub Street. “Now you hear newscasters using ‘literally’ every three minutes on the Sunday news shows. What’s annoying is people aren’t even aware they’re saying it. How could you be so unaware of your words that it’s coming out every couple minutes?”
Not everyone sees the humor in the sign, with some saying the move is sexist. “People like this don't give a shit about language,” tweeted writer and reporter Allegra Hobbs. “They're just self-important, generally misogynistic blow hards who get off on feeling superior to (mostly) young women.”
Smith tells Grub Street the backlash is “even funnier than the sign,” and says that the sign does not have sexist intentions. “Anybody who knows me knows I’m a feminist who supports women’s rights and is 100 percent behind this whole ‘Me Too’ thing,” he said. “I guess people will find an issue in anything.”
The notion that policing words like “literally” and “like” are rooted in linguistic sexism is not entirely new. In her video in vocal fry, host of “The Dirty Word” Amanda Montell says how criticism of certain linguistic characteristics disproportionately target women, especially young women.
“Traditionally, we expect women to have high-pitched, composed, feminine voices,” Montell states, adding that things like vocal fry “[clash] with the way we think a woman should sound.” Studies have also shown that vocal fry affects how women are seen by men, hurting women’s job prospects and whether or not a woman is seen as professional.
Continental has a history of controversial policies. In 2013, the bar’s “saggy jean” policy received backlash as some viewed the rule as racist, specifically targeting patrons of color. Continental’s website has a page entitled “discriminatory door policy?” which included a lengthy statement from bar owner Smith. “Anyone that knows me, my character and values knows that racism is anathema to everything that I stand for,” the statement begins. Smith also writes, “If you have a problem with that, open up your own bar with no dress code or door policy and see how long it lasts. That crowd will alienate and scare away your mainstream crowd until that’s all you have left.”
The bottom of the page includes links to articles clearing Continental of racism allegations as well as a link to a photo of a letter thanking Smith for his contributions to the Obama campaign and a photos from Continental’s party after Obama’s election.
Continental, best known by some for its punk shows which featured artists like Joey Ramone and Iggy Pop, is set to close at the end of June. The homepage for the bar’s website includes a note about its controversial policies. “Our door policy was strictly about dress code and vibe code. That's it,” Smith writes. “And I'm absolutely certain that we denied entry to more intoxicated, caucasian, bro types than any other group or race.”