"Seriously," said Bruce Springsteen's guitarist Steven Van Zandt, "When did England become a police state?"
Word peevers fetishize on the adverb literally as used when the context is one where only figuratively would make sense. (There is a whole book devoted to expressions that annoy peevers and purists, and the title is She Literally Exploded.) But perhaps the peevers should pay a little attention to seriously as well.
The event that led Van Zandt to suggest (indeed, linguistically presuppose) that England is now a police state occurred in London's famous Hyde Park, where Springsteen was playing a concert. The Boss, notorious for self-indulgently extra-long sets, was under a contractual agreement that involved a concert scheduled to stop at 10:30 p.m. It was some time after that when, showing no sign at all of stopping, Springsteen brought Sir Paul McCartney up onto the stage and they started doing some rock 'n' roll together.
They did "I Saw Her Standing There." Then they started on "Twist and Shout" (and let me tell you, it did not sound all that great from the clip I heard: I sometimes think nobody should be allowed to attempt songs by the great Isley Brothers). They twisted and shouted on as if the venue was theirs and they had it for as long as they wanted it.
So as the time rolled on, when it was getting on for 11 p.m. the authorities for the park, with the agreement of the promoter (who was now nearly half an hour beyond the time limit cited in the legal agreement he had signed) finally cut off the power to the massive sound system, and the music died. No goodbyes, no more encores, time to go.
That was all Van Zandt was talking about: the shutting down of a concert that had gone on half an hour longer than the original agreed duration. And he's saying "police state". I was appalled. It's as if he had never heard of one, let alone visited one.
No, the end of an over-extended Springsteen/McCartney jam session is not evidence of England now being a police state. And allow me, if you will, to be prescriptive enough to propose that Van Zandt should be a bit more careful about how he picks his words. Seriously.
[Notice, in a police state comments would be punished. I merely didn't switch them on for this post because this is Language Log, not Springsteen Log.]