Literally doesn’t literally mean literally

Tales from the fun and exciting world of the armchair linguist.

I finally literally got round to literally checking out the Guardian website where I literally found a review for On Tour with the Queen by Sam Wollaston. It literally isn’t a programme I’ll literally see any time soon, which is, literally, a pity because it literally sounds literally quite interesting. Wollaston literally pulls up the presenter, Kwame Kwei-Armah for his use of “literally”.

Literally indicates that something should be read in its literal or primary sense, rather than metaphorically.

Except as Chaucer literally put it, “In form of speche is chaunge”. These days (and literally long before them), literally is literally being used as an emphatic adverb which literally means something like “in fact” or perhaps “almost”. I don’t literally disagree with Wollaston that the word may literally be being overused or, at least, literally used often enough to literally be noticeably annoying.

Of course, literally still literally retains its older meaning, which should literally be used on any appropriate occasion.

Normally, I wouldn’t literally care about literally, which is literally not a word that I literally use that much, although I’m literally sure that I’ve literally done so in the past without literally distinguishing its older from its more recent senses.

[16.08.13. I assume that the reason why this post has surfaced again is a peevish article in The Guardian (?) recently about the use of “literally” as an intensive adverb because the hack who wrote the piece is too literal-minded about what she thinks the word should mean. (I do recall that the author was female, but I can’t immediately find the article.)]


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