Today’s Zits, with a semantic/pragmatic puzzle about the adverb actually:

I’m not sure where in the second (sentence-adverbial) part of this NOAD2 entry for actually this usage comes, but ‘contrary to expectation’ is wrapped up somewhere in there:

1 as the truth or facts of a situation; really : we must pay attention to what young people are actually doing | the time actually worked on a job.

2 [as sentence adverb ] used to emphasize that something someone has said or done is surprising : he actually expected me to be pleased about it!

• used when expressing an opinion, typically one that is not expected : “Actually,” she said icily, “I don’t care who you go out with.”

• used when expressing a contradictory opinion or correcting someone : “Tom seems to be happy.” “He isn’t, actually, not any more.”

• used to introduce a new topic or to add information to a previous statement : he had a thick Brooklyn accent—he sounded like my grandfather actually.

Maybe Jeremy supposes that his mother is expecting the answer “Yes” — her question is rhetorical; she assumes that Jeremy does know something about the situation — so that he provides the contrary answer, signalling the contrast with apparently. But that’s just a stab.

One Response to “actually”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Jeff Shaumeyer on Facebook:

    “used to introduce a new topic” reminds me of a fellow graduate student–not a native English speaker–who always began a conversation, upon entering a room, say, with “But, by the way…”.

    Some attention has been paid to conversation openers (and, of course, topic introduction in general), but I don’t think that but has been investigated.

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