On “Literally”


I’m wrong because people have been misusing the word for a couple of hundred years instead of a couple of years? 

No, NOT misusing but using one of the established meanings of the word.

By the late 17th century, though, literally was being used as an intensifier for true statements. The Oxford English Dictionary cites Dryden and Pope for this sense; Jane Austen, in Sanditon, wrote of a stormy night that, “We had been literally rocked in our bed.” In these examples, literally is used for the sake of emphasis alone. Eventually, though, literally began to be used to intensify statements that were themselves figurative or metaphorical. The earliest examples I know of are from the late 18th century, and though there are examples throughout the 19th century—often in prominent works; to my earlier examples could be added choice quotations from James Fenimore Cooper, Thackeray, Dickens, and Thoreau, among many others—no one seems to have objected to the usage until the early 20th century.


It goes on to explain some grief over not misuse, but ABUSE of one of the actual understood (!) meanings of “literally” and then classifies the word with several similar ones meaning two opposite things:

There are many such words, and they arise through various means. Called “Janus words,” “contranyms,” or “auto-antonyms,”

And how, for some reason, people never criticize “really” when it’s often used the same two ways as “literally”

and of course examples are always fun:

such “abuses” have a long and esteemed history in English. The ground was not especially sticky in Little Women when Louisa May Alcott wrote that “the land literally flowed with milk and honey,”nor was Tom Sawyer turning somersaults on piles of money when Twain described him as “literally rolling in wealth,” nor was Jay Gatsby shining when Fitzgerald wrote that “he literally glowed,” nor were Bach and Beethoven squeezed into a fedora when Joyce wrote in Ulysses that a Mozart piece was “the acme of first class music as such, literally knocking everything else into a cocked hat.” Such examples are easily come by, even in the works of the authors we are often told to emulate.

Please do click and read and come. the fuck. off it. so that yknow, let’s lay this debate to rest finally and all you strict grammar whiners can go cry about something else that makes you feel superior I guess.