July 25, 2011
… well, not literally.
Have you noticed that the word “literally” has been getting a lot of use—or should I say misuse—lately?
Maybe you saw the episode of “How I Met Your Mother” in which the character Robin repeatedly misuses the term (This is literally driving me crazy!). Or perhaps you have a lot of contact with teenagers, who love to use the word for emphasis (I literally died of embarrassment.). And if you’ve ever seen a reality TV show or talk show, odds are you’ve heard “literally” used incorrectly more than once (This is literally a dream come true for us. Really? You and everyone in your family dreamed that you would win big money on a cheesy reality TV show?).
Well, let’s clear up the proper meaning of this adverb before it loses it for good.
The correct definition of literally is “in a literal manner; word for word.” For example: “The French student translated the passage literally.”
The word does not mean actually or really. It is incorrect to say “he literally blew my mind”—unless, of course, a cruel man set off an explosive in your brain. Instead, you could say “he figuratively blew my mind.” Or just “he blew my mind.” Ask yourself: Is an adverb really necessary to convey what I’m trying to say or is it just a useless intensifier? More often than not, you’ll find that you don’t need the term at all.
For those of you who want to read more about the grossly overused and misused word in question, check out the “Literally Misused” blog or follow the “You Are Not ‘Literally’ On Fire” group on Facebook (You’ve got to love their tagline: “And if you ARE literally on fire, you have bigger problems than your grammar.”).