syllabication: lit. er. al. ly

the word literally is the adverb form of the word literal, which is derived from the latin word meaning "letter." it means "according to a specific word or definition, not figurative or metaphorical." it can also mean "following the exact words," "made up of letters," or "exact in fact or detail."

in recent years the word literally has become overused, often having a sense of nothing more than "very" or "really." i’m sort of cheesed off at the way in which “literally” has become a polysemous word. it would be okay if it was a natural and logical progression of the english language, but instead it has become a word the ill-informed use to add emphasis or to sound slightly intellectual. it is used far too liberally. one of my friends shares my distaste towards this linguistic phenomenon, and she expresses herself thusly:

"do you know what literally means? if something did not literally fall into your literal lap, it did not literally fall into your lap. if it was not in a plane or flapping its little wings, it was not literally flying through the air. literally is not synonymous with absolutely or completely or omigod."

worse, literally is not merely used incorrectly; it's also used superfluously. this surplus is apparent if you watch the local news; you may hear a phrase such as “the burglar was literally arrested moments after fleeing the scene."
how absolutely unnecessary. how completely obvious. how could one be "figuratively" arrested?

Lit"er*al*ly, adv.

1.

According to the primary and natural import of words; not figuratively; as, a man and his wife can not be literally one flesh.

2.

With close adherence to words; word by word.

So wild and ungovernable a poet can not be translated literally. Dryden.

 

© Webster 1913.

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