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Post Reply Improper use of the word "literally"
Posted 7/19/15
This is literally the most boring thread eva.
Posted 7/20/15
I literally do that all the time I'm literally sorry.
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Posted 7/20/15 , edited 7/20/15

Akumanomi wrote:

Now, I'm sure you've heard English nerds, Grammar Nazis and smart alecks alike complain time and time again about this. However, my complaint isn't about the most common misuse of it. (using it as an extreme exaggerator: example-- "It's literally 0 degrees outside omigosh" While it's actually 25 degrees) It's about using it with things it doesn't even make sense with. Example: "He literally ate." Like, how does that even make sense to people? He literally ate? As opposed to figuratively eating? How does one even figuratively eat?

Anyway, I wanna hear your guys' thoughts on this. I feel like I may be one of the only people who has actually payed attention to this, but I'm probably wrong. You can also talk about other improper uses of this word, although I doubt that there are any more that I haven't mentioned.


The dictionary has been officially changed to allow for the word "literally" to be used as an exaggeration or in a figurative sense... It's literally not the same word anymore. I'm LITERALLY spitting nails and exploding over how stupid this change is!
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Posted 7/20/15
'Literally' became a means of exaggerating, all it is.

The language literally changes every generation after all, I don't see how this comes off as a surprise.
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Posted 7/20/15 , edited 7/20/15
It's improper to use it as an extreme exaggeration. Using it means you aren't joking. This bugs the crap out of me. People love to do stuff like this and then they blame you for not understanding they weren't being serious. Seriously, the satire/sarcasm is only in your head at that point. Start unpacking it for people since none of us are mind readers. Otherwise, your humor is obscure and it sucks and you need to write better. I'm at the point where I start not paying attention at all once I hear or see the word.

Remarkably, I don't encounter many who use it in the way that bothers OP. I'm glad.

Another great butchered word is "ironic." Oh, and "fail" is another common one.
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Posted 7/20/15

netdisorder wrote:

The dictionary has been officially changed to allow for the word "literally" to be used as an exaggeration or in a figurative sense... It's literally not the same word anymore. I'm LITERALLY spitting nails and exploding over how stupid this change is!


The dictionary notes it as informal, but really, the use of literally in such a way stretches back much further than the dictionary edit including the informal usage. Dictionaries don't record the language as it "should" be, but rather record how words are used. This is what they should do, really - imagine a non-native English speaker hearing a word used in a way they don't understand, attempting to find it in a dictionary only to see that it isn't in there.

Language evolves over time. There is virtually nothing that can be done to stop it, and really, there is no reason to. Otherwise, we would all still be speaking Latin, Proto-Germanic, or whatever other language people decided to stop at.
Posted 7/20/15
-grin- This reminds me of the Viking song from Horrible Histories
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qSkaAwKMD4
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Posted 7/20/15 , edited 7/20/15

Schmooples wrote:

The dictionary notes it as informal, but really, the use of literally in such a way stretches back much further than the dictionary edit including the informal usage. Dictionaries don't record the language as it "should" be, but rather record how words are used. This is what they should do, really - imagine a non-native English speaker hearing a word used in a way they don't understand, attempting to find it in a dictionary only to see that it isn't in there.

Language evolves over time. There is virtually nothing that can be done to stop it, and really, there is no reason to. Otherwise, we would all still be speaking Latin, Proto-Germanic, or whatever other language people decided to stop at.


Although this is true that words are misused and the language evolves, the unique case for this word is that its new definition brought about by misuse is pretty much the opposite of the old. It's like adding a second definition to "black" that means white. And, since we are living in an age of bad online satire and abominable writing, a time during which both definitions are now regularly referred to, this leaves this particular word nearly unusable. You don't even need the second definition, really. People just throw "literally" in front of something that does not need it to show emphasis. It no longer can do its job no matter which definition you use.

Examples:
"Your hand is [literally] falling off!"
"This is [literally] the worst day of my whole life!"
"You're [literally] a giant!"
"My phone [literally] dies 30 minutes after I fully charge it!"

This is unfortunate but, as you said, there's nothing to be done about it. I will simply avoid using the word so I don't cause confusion. Next, "ironic" will probably have a definition that means simply being humorous, but at least that definition wouldn't be a direct opposite of the first, making it more tolerable than the change to "literally."
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Posted 7/20/15
I literally could care less about how literally people take a word.
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Posted 7/20/15
Even the dictionaries are giving up:

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/literally
http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/literally

After seeing that, I've decided to stop caring what the old definitions of words are, and instead give them definitions that will make my life more enjoyable. I mean, everyone else is doing it.
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Posted 7/20/15
Ironically, literally is used as a hyperbole most of the time.
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Posted 7/20/15

bowlnoodles wrote:

Ironically, literally is used as a hyperbole most of the time.


Depends on where you get reading materials. I rarely, if ever, see it being used that way unless I'm on Facebook or something.
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Posted 7/20/15 , edited 7/20/15

Morbidhanson wrote:

Although this is true that words are misused and the language evolves, the unique case for this word is that its new definition brought about by misuse is pretty much the opposite of the old. It's like adding a second definition to "black" that means white. And, since we are living in an age of bad online satire and abominable writing, a time during which both definitions are now regularly referred to, this leaves this particular word nearly unusable. You don't even need the second definition, really. People just throw "literally" in front of something that does not need it to show emphasis. It no longer can do its job no matter which definition you use.

Examples:
"Your hand is [literally] falling off!"
"This is [literally] the worst day of my whole life!"
"You're [literally] a giant!"
"My phone [literally] dies 30 minutes after I fully charge it!"

This is unfortunate but, as you said, there's nothing to be done about it. I will simply avoid using the word so I don't cause confusion. Next, "ironic" will probably have a definition that means simply being humorous, but at least that definition wouldn't be a direct opposite of the first, making it more tolerable than the change to "literally."


This is far from exclusive to the word "literally," and in fact is one of the major ways in which language changes of time. Similarly, you can see how "bad," came to mean "good" in some circumstances, or "sick" came to be "good," or various other terms that have come to be associated with their opposites. These things happen. It doesn't muddle things much more than other methods of change.

It used to be that "girl" referred to any child, that pease referred a singular pea as well as multiple peas, and various other such things - despite all this, all these changes and different standards, things are relatively easy to understand. There is a certain charm to using "literally" as an intensive, besides - some of the ways it can be used aren't already covered by a word, a quick and easy intensive. "This is literally the worst day of my life," is easier to say than, "today is so bad that I can't imagine it being worse."

Using "literally" as an intensive does introduce a certain ambiguity, that is true, but it isn't that bad. After all, "you" is the second-person singular and plural, and as such can lead to quite a bit of confusion if context isn't sufficient. Many of the people that oppose the use of "literally" as an intensive also oppose the use of more specific second-person plural forms, like "y'all," "ye," or "yinz."

"Apology" used to be used chiefly as a defense or speech justifying something others find fault with; nowadays, it is primarily seen as an admission of fault. "Terrific" used to mean terrifying, but has now come to denote that something is very good. Also, many words now are actively their own antonyms or have meanings that seem contradictory - "oversight," can be the act of overseeing something or an unintentional failure to do something.

Edit: Just to add, most languages have tons of sources of ambiguity that are essentially left up to context or explanation to fix. For example, "kuusi palaa" is a Finnish phrase that can mean "the spruce is on fire," "the number six returns," "six pieces," or "your moon is on fire," amongst several other things.
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