9

An article called 'I am Officially Sick of COVID-19' got me thinking about this non-literal usage of 'officially'. I'd be interested to hear some explanations of how to correctly use this.

My feeling is that 'officially' is often used as a kind of emphatic way to demonstrate some kind of strong emotion. It also seems to present a logical conclusion, after you have listed some reasons for your emotion. In the article, the writer lists the many aspects of COVID which have negatively impacted his life. The punchline is then 'I am officially sick of it', implying a logical connection between the list of reasons. A literal usage of 'officially' hints at a systematic process which provides something with validity. The 'validity' aspect seems to carry over to the non-literal usage.

  • It’s not a systematic process which provides validity. it’s a statement made by an official in their official capacity. – Jim Oct 16 at 19:25
  • @Jim I'm not talking strictly about the definition of 'official', I'm more referring to the implication of the word which might carry over. Phrases like "an official statement" or "the official starting time" have an implication that some kind of authority has approved it. – kandyman Oct 16 at 19:29
  • 1
    Are you sure it's not used literally? Doesn't everyone have the right to officially make declarations on their own behalf? – curiousdannii Oct 17 at 6:43
  • 1
    @curiousdannii I would argue that something 'official' is implied to have relevance to other people since they will be subjected to its consequences. If I say "I am officially allowed to enter the White House", I suspect I will still be stopped because I don't have official permission. – kandyman Oct 17 at 10:09
  • 1
    It's the same as when some people say the word "literally" for emphasis -- that is, they use "literally" non-literally. – Shawn V. Wilson Oct 17 at 20:11
14

In this colloquial usage, officially is roughly synonymous with definitely or indisputably.

The origin of this sense of the word lies in the fact that many terms that have vague dictionary definitions also have very precise definitions in some laws or regulations. Consider, for example, poor. If one doesn't have much money, but is not completely penniless, it may be debatable whether one is poor. However, if one's income is below some precise amount that the government has set as the poverty level, then one may be said to be 'officially' poor. Or consider the word dependant. If one is a young adult with a part-time job, who receives some financial help from one's parents, it may be debatable whether one is a dependant of the parents. One may, however, be said to be 'officially' a dependant if one's finances fit some precise criteria specified in the taxation code. In all these cases officially carries an implication that the matter is definite and indisputable. That makes officially an apt word to be used as a playful synonym for definitely or indisputably, even when there is nothing literally official about the matter.

| improve this answer | |
  • Or, in the case of "[I'm] officially done", it can just be used to emphasize something. In a sentence like "This book is officially stupid", the speaker could just be using it like "totally stupid" or "just plain stupid" — it's not necessarily stupid officially, completely, or plainly, it's just to put more importance on the "stupid" part – Redwolf Programs Oct 18 at 3:14
14

I agree with your assessment. The figurative usage expresses the culmination of a process by which a person crosses some kind of emotional threshold with respect to an issue or situation.

The use of officially is borrowed for this because official things are normally declared by a governing agency of some sort

officially
2. Authorized by a proper authority; authoritative
TFD Online

and in our own minds we are setting up our own governing body (our feeling of having had enough, usually, of whatever it is) and making a declaration to all who may hear. Compare it in spirit with the paid notices that appear in newspapers whereby someone's spouse declares they are "no longer responsible for so-and-so's debts or behavior"—that sort of thing. It says to anyone listening that a line has finally been crossed.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thank you, that's a well-articulated explanation! What do you think about its usage in positive emotions? e.g. "She finally agreed to marry me. I'm officially the happiest man alive!". I guess the same idea of crossing an emotional threshold is true (positive in this case). – kandyman Oct 16 at 19:39
  • 3
    An example of this sort of crossover would be the sentences:"My decree absolute came through today, I'm officially single" and "My girfriend has moved out and taken all her stuff, I'm officially single." In the first case he was legally married and had to wait for the decree until he was, literally, 'officially single': in the second case there was no legal status to the the relationship so he is genuinely single but legally he was single anyway. – BoldBen Oct 16 at 19:43
  • 1
    @kandyman: It can be used in positive contexts as well. It's just that the line that has been crossed has been demarcating a different direction. ^_^ – Robusto Oct 16 at 19:58
  • Thanks again. I see you study Japanese too. A man after my own heart. Are you active on Japanese Language Stack Exchange? – kandyman Oct 16 at 20:02
  • 1
    @kandyman: I've posted there a few times, but in general I don't post much on any SE site anymore. – Robusto Oct 16 at 20:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.