Literal Literalness…Literally

Here’s something that most of you don’t know about me: I am the epitome of literalness.

I think this literal phenomenon occurred after my first pregnancy, because I don’t remember my literalness being a problem before then. My family and friends might tell you differently, but I’m pretty sure it came along with my mommy brain.

The problem with being so literal? Miscommunication. On SO many levels. Let me give you a few examples of how my extreme literalness has caused some miscommunication faux pas. See? Here is an example…this is what I mean. I could have just said faux pas (singular), but that wouldn’t have been correct. But I don’t know the plural form of faux pas, and so I point out to you my mistake. And yes, I did just look it up and faux pas plural is the same as it is singular.

Anyways…here are a few examples of my literalness.

1. My sister A is one of the most amazing home cooks I know. Me? I cook from recipes.

Things I have been making for years (like meatloaf), I’ll still pull out good old Betty Crocker’s book to tell me how to do it. I would hate to put a teaspoon of something in when it only called for half a teaspoon.

My sister A? If I ask her for a recipe, she’ll say something like this: “A pound of ground beef, enough onion to mix well with the meat, a little garlic, some pepper…” And at this point I’ll say, “Stop! What do you mean “enough onion” and “a little garlic”? How much is that? What if I put in too much…or even worse, not enough?

I’ve also been known to yell at Rachael Ray, as she smiles and throws a palmful of cumin into a skillet that has two circles of olive oil in it:


Because without specifics, I can’t cook.

2. Another example of my extreme literalness: mashing potatoes to make mashed potatoes.

The same sister and her family came over one night to make steaks and all the fixins. I had the potatoes boiling; she was making the salad. I drained the potatoes, got out my handy dandy potato masher, and got busy.

Sister A: What are you doing?

Me: I’m mashing potatoes. Why?

Sister A: Well why don’t you use your hand mixer?

Me: Huh? What do you mean?

Sister A: If you use the hand mixer, it’s a lot faster and the potatoes will be creamy and smooth.

Me: Huh. Never even occurred to me. I’ve always used the masher because that’s how you mash potatoes.

This was last year, people. Literal idiocy.

And this last one, I’ll never live down. EVER. I get teased about this one all of the time.

3.  My mom and dad were going away, and asked us to keep their dog while they were gone. Baxter might be three pounds soaking wet, and he’s a really good dog. Other than making sure I didn’t lose/kill him, my mom’s only instructions were to “put him in his cage and cover him up with his blanket” when I put him to bed.

Uh huh. I’m sure you already see where this is going. Bedtime rolled around, I put him in his cage, and covered him up with his blanket. But he wouldn’t stay under the blanket! I tried to put him under it and he just kept whining and trying to get away from me. And then spent most of the night, whining and crying.

My mom came to pick him up, and asked how he did. I told her that he was fine, except her really didn’t want to be covered up with his blanket.

Mom: What do you mean?

Me: Well, I tried to cover him up with his blanket, but he just kept climbing on top of it and whining.

Mom: Wait, you mean that you covered him up with the blanket? Not his cage?

Me: Well why would I cover up his cage? You said cover him up so I put him in the cage and covered him up with the blanket.

Mom: (uncontrollable laughter) Natalie! You tried to put the blanket over Baxter?! I meant to put the blanket over his cage!

That’s not what she said, people. Sigh. Literalness equals miscommunication. Just remember those words, and live by them. And keep it mind especially when you’re talking to me!

You can enter the Alka-Seltzer Said/Heard Mishaps contest!

The winner of the Said/Heard Mishaps Contest will receive:
· A trip to New York City to star in an Alka-Seltzer online video featuring their entry
· The winning spot will premiere on the Alka-Seltzer Facebook page!
· Plus $5,000 to spend toward whatever they wish.

Legal residents of the 50 United States (D.C.), 18 years or older. Contest ends 2/25/11.
To enter and for Official Rules, including prize description, visit
Void where prohibited.

*I am being compensated for this post by TheMotherhood and the Alka-Seltzer brand. Unfortunately, all of the examples of miscommunication that I’ve told you are my own.


  1. Midwest Elle says:
    I am the exact same way. Never understand a joke because I think too literally about it. And using a hand mixer for mash potatoes, never even thought about it until I read this. Ya. We live in literal land together. But I suppose I'm okay with that. Better than never taking anything seriously.
  2. you have to loose your fear of cooking cooking is very adaptable, just keep tasting it and you'll have something you really love! :D
  3. snort. I love it. sarcasm must not be strong with you. I'm the opposite, which is why I'm a horrible baker. I cook by throwing in flavors I like and tasting as I go. baking does not work like that. it is chemistry and precision. I suck at both.
  4. I can't cook without a receipe either, so don't feel bad.

    I need specific instructions, directions and step by steps all the time. For everything.
  5. The Empress says:

    You have got to enter the doggie one. That one is hilarious.

    I am unberliteral, too.

    I used to think I was dumb, or feared people would think I was dumb. I actually now think it's not wanting to disappoint, so you do exactly as someone says.

    But, I do this daily. DAILY. and then on to Hourly...

    I'm yours in literalness...
  6. That dumb dog! Why wouldn't he stay under the damn blanket??

  7. Big Mama Cass says:
    HAHA I am mostly the same way. But not about food. Because I was taught to cook by watching not measuring. That's why I am a HORRIBLE baker. Because I don't follow recipes. I hardly even know how to read them! LOL
  8. Ha! I'm like you in many ways. Your Rachael Ray example sounds just like me - I wanna smack her. But then again, when I'm making something I'm familiar with I tend to eyeball too. But not when I'm, ya know, showing other people how to make something...

    And the doggie blanket? I would have done the. Same. Thing.

  9. I literally LOLed at your blanket example.
  10. Lori @ In Pursuit of Martha Points says:
    I think you win with the title alone.

    Cause that, literally, is perfection.
  11. My husband is the same way. I can't tell you how many disagreements we've had because he's taken something I've said too literally, or I haven't given him directions that were specific enough!
  12. I don't have the balls to deviate from recipes. I follow them to a T. Mostly because
    I am convinced that I cant cook ;)
  13. This literally makes me love ya more.
  14. TornadoTwos says:
    You remind me so much of my mom! Once I realized that she was going to take every word I said at face value, it became MUCH easier to talk to her. I keep having to tell my husband to stop teasing her because she doesn't get that he's joking, she takes everything he says literally, it's so funny.
  15. You can be like me and just avoid cooking-- that solves the dilemma, doesn't it?

    Today on I discuss homework. Do you have a teacher who assigns things to be taught at home because there wasn't enough time in the classroom to cover it? Have you encountered "busy work"? Do you have trouble juggling homework and extracurriculars? I would LOVE to have other moms weigh in on this subject that touches us all. Stop by and let me hear your thoughts!
  16. Funky Mama Bird says:
    I am very literal in some ways, but not about cooking. I come from a long line of chefs, so was taught at an early age to adapt to things like humidity levels and altitudes. I never consult recipes, which is hilarious because I am paid (quite well) to write them each week. So when I'm writing them, I usually estimate.
  17. You are just like my husband. He is so literal that I have had to learn to watch what I say.
  18. I do love that last story with Baxter. Too funny. I'm pretty literal too, and I'm just like you with the recipe book. I can make the same recipe a million times, but I still need the book to make sure it's right. Bless
  19. Wombat Central says:
    I, too, am literal in the kitchen. I do however use my hand mixer for mashed potatoes (when I don't get them out of a box. Shhh!), but my reason was purely to minimize work. I'm lazy (see: boxed mashed potatoes comment)
  20. At least you've made mashed potatoes from scratch. All I've ever done is flakes out of the box!
  21. HonestConvoGal says:
    Wow. You cook exactly like my husband. So, for Christmas I actually sat down and wrote a cookbook of all of my recipes so that he could cook dinner. I figured out how much a "fistful" is and everything. I refused to let his problem with literal cooking leave me in the kitchen all alone.

    Great post. Dumb dog. It's a wonder it didn't freeze to death.
  22. snipcrank1 says:
    I am the same way, I take everything I mean everything literal and straight to the heart. It has caused to many too count misunderstandings and arguements. Not sure if I will forever to be like this, I am just glad that my hubs understands and still keeps me :) ((HUGS))
  23. WTH am I Doing? says:
    LMAO! I love this. Hub is very, very literal...and I? Am so not. I'm very colorful with my explanations and descriptions, and I tend to take some poetic license when I'm explaining things because it makes the story better.

    To me? I'm *obviously* exaggerating for amusing effect. But he takes me completely seriously. And begins to analyze what I have said. And correct my imprecision.

    This may have caused some, um, colorful disagreements in our household. Hehehe

    Also? I only use recipes when I first cook something, or if it's complicated. Things I make all the time? I totally eyeball. & I try stuff too. Just to see what will happen. Usually turns out well...but sometimes not...
  24. Soge shirts says:
    ha guess I have the same problem. I definitely would have done the same thing with the dog trying to put his blanket on top of him. Never would have thought of the cage.
  25. Oh geez, I am your long lost cooking twin, I'm not even kidding! I'm the only one in my family who Must know specifics- he bit of this a little of that drives me all sorts of crazy. I follow recipies even if I've made something a million times, sigh.
    The cage thing was really funny though, lol. (Ok I'd probably do the same thing too.)
  26. Luv it! This is so true about have to be very specific with her! Was wondering if you would mention Baxter! LOL again!!! Oh...and that is why you got the easy bake instructions on how to make a cake for your bridal shower! :)
  27. Kristi {at} Live and Love...Out Loud says:
    Haha! I can somewhat relate. I don't do well with vague recipes. I want specifics so I can nail the dang recipe down the first time! And mashing the potatoes...I would've done the same thing if I weren't using flakes. But the dog? Can't relate to that one. That's hilarious! :)
  28. I am so sorry that you suffer from this disease, Natalie...but it IS the makings of a very funny post!

    And it IS very hard to try and cover a dog with a blanket. They don't like it.
  29. I am CRACKING UP over here! I can just picture you putting the blanket on top of the dog and then wondering why the heck he wouldn't sit still. OMG I'm DYING! Lindsay recently posted..My Favorite Posts of 2011My Profile