Have you ever found yourself wincing every time someone misuses a certain word or phrase? Well, dear readers, just like Napoleon’s Waterloo, the word literally and its overabundant misuse reduces me to despair and cringing like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard.
In an effort to stop this poor abused adverb from being bandied about so absurdly, I am devoting this post to setting its meaning straight. So put on your thinking caps and let’s learn about the word literally.
According to Dictionary.comLiterally, pronounced [lit-er-uh-lee] is an adverb form of the word literal which means:
1. In the literal or strict sense. For example: She failed to grasp the metaphor and interpreted the poem literally.
2. In a literal manner; word for word: to translate literally.
3. Actually; without exaggeration or inaccuracy: The city was literally destroyed.
For some reason I do not understand, a lot of people use the word as an intensifier meaning “in effect, virtually," contradicting its true meaning of “actually, without exaggeration”
Some sad examples:
1. The senator was literally buried alive in the Iowa primaries. Really, how is this possible? As far as I know, and I did a quick Google search, Iowa is mainly covered in plains and hills, no mountains to be buried alive under.
2. The parties were literally trading horses in an effort to reach a compromise. I refuse to insult you by stating the obvious absurdity of this statement.
3. I literally thought I was literally going to die from the shock. This was from a letter to the editor and all I can say here is Please Stop or I’m literally going to kill you and I do mean this in the actual sense.
"The awful thing is that although the word’s misuse is often criticized, it appears in all but the most carefully edited writing" Dictionery.com. Personally, I’ve come across it in the New York Times, a paper I trust to usually keep the rule of English grammar, in fact example 3 came for a letter from the Times. A tragedy for all involved.
How about finding different words to fill your prose. One source I like is Dictionary.com Word of the Day.