Help save the literal meaning of “literally.”

Photo courtesy of Flickr member: Wetsun

Today we discuss one of the Scribe’s favorite adverbs:  literally.  Sadly, literally is one of our language’s most commonly misused words—and it is up to you, dear readers, to help save it.

As you can see from the following examples, “literally” (which means explicitly, actually, or really) is often misused as a replacement for figuratively or metaphorically:

  • The plaintiff was literally sweating bullets as the judge read the verdict.
  • As she walked onto the tarmac in Phoenix, Jeanne literally walked into a furnace.
  • I literally lost my mind.
  • The Beatles literally exploded onto the music scene.
  • Frank McCourt literally dragged the Dodgers into the sewers.

In each of these examples, “literally” is misused because none of these things actually happened (well, except maybe the last one).  And in using the word in this way, the writer is helping to make “literally” just another vague intensifier.

Help stop the madness.  “Literally” should be used only when something extreme occurred, and to signal the reader that you’re not being merely metaphorical, e.g.:

  • I was literally up all night preparing for oral argument.
  • On September 10, 1960, Mickey Mantle literally hit a baseball out of Tiger Stadium.
  • Evie literally fell out of her chair laughing.

 That is all for now …

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Filed under Style, Troublesome Words

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