Okay, so it was a Thing recently about how the word “literally” has shifted its meaning because so many people used it improperly, and a big controversy over if this is the worst thing in the history of language or if those of us who use and depend on words to Mean Things should chill out because this happens and it’s normal.

(In case you’re one of the three people who missed this, a good explanation is here, in which she says,

Now as well as meaning “in a literal manner or sense; exactly: ‘the driver took it literally when asked to go straight over the traffic circle'”, various dictionaries have added its other more recent usage. As Google puts it, “literally” can be used “to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling”.)

Some people feel this is not only completely normal but, indeed, justified. They think that dictionaries should define how we use a word, not give us an objective resource on what a word means.

Some people claim that since this is not the first word to change its meaning (see: semantic drift), that this is perfectly fine.

Pick a word. Any word. Now look up its etymological history. Chances are, it used to mean something quite different. Language changes, at times quite fast.

You are literally on the wrong side of history if you try to fight this. —Literally Indefensible

Hey, guys, remember the word, “livid“? How it was a great word to describe someone’s appearance while conveying emotion? …until it meant both greyish white as well as red with rage. Oh, and also blue, or purple. Or bruised.

Yeah, there’s a reason no one uses it anymore. And it’s much like what Martha Gill says about “literally”:

So there really is not much we can do with the word “literally”, other than avoid it completely. At the moment it is irredeemable.

We have a hard enough time communicating with other human beings even when we use the same language. Please, don’t make it harder. Just because you can use a word wrong doesn’t mean you should.


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