What would William Safire do?
The misuse of “literally” when the speaker or writer means “figuratively” is right up there with employing “impact” as a verb (when not speaking of a molar or a colon or a rogue meteor striking Earth) instead of “affect,” or “over” when one literally means “more than.” It’s even more grating than the perennial misuse (or mis-type) of “their” instead of “there.”
I was considering getting a literal tattoo of the figurative grammatical sin, but these t-shirts might be a better choice.
You can find yours at SNORGTEES.com for $19.95 in men’s and women’s styles and sizes.
So, about this literally…Minnesota Public Radio reminded us on its Grammar Grater program that:
According to the Oxford Dictionary of Current English, literally means “in a literal way or sense.” The dictionary goes on to define literal as “the most usual or basic sense of the word.”
The Oxford Dictionary of Current English also tells us that the word literally is used to add emphasis—and in those cases, the word is not intended to be taken literally. Fowler’s Modern English Usage calls this secondary use of literally a weakened sense of the word. The Associated Press Stylebook also advises against using literally this way.
Read more of the Grammar Grater’s report or listen to the podcast HERE.
And finally, the video below is lit’rally the best example of the over- and misuse of “literally” we can think of without getting ourselves into trouble (or jackpotting one of our favorite Canadians.)