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Post Reply Improper use of the word "literally"
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Posted 7/20/15 , edited 7/20/15

Schmooples wrote:

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.


Good examples, but I must point out that those are not dictionary definitions, whereas "literally" received this special treatment for some reason. Those words are used almost like slang, whereas "literally" is not. The context in which these words are used differs. "Literally" must fit in the same space all the time but can convey radically different meanings while in that space, something those other words cannot do. It seems to require more context than the other words and, as it stands now, it's not a good word to be using until things clear up a little.

I suppose I'm okay with it as a part of speech, but it wrecks the credibility of a writer in my eyes when I see it being used that way on paper. Speech is more nuanced than writing and it's easier to figure out what definition the person is using. In writing, there is too much setup required for "literally" to be used as an intensive. People try but they do not seem to succeed often. It's not worth the trouble and, frankly, it's a pain in the butt to read. The reader has to do more work, especially if they are not sure whether or not the piece is serious, and it makes them want to drop that page and break a Molotov on it.

Meh, but what can I do. I've never used the word much and I'll probably just avoid using it in writing. I even hate how it sounds when people use it in speech. Perhaps I just need some more time to get accustomed to this.
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Posted 7/20/15
I can speak how i decideeeee howevar impropar ti meght b3. loosers d0n nu nuthimg
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Posted 7/20/15

Morbidhanson wrote:

Good examples, but I must point out that those are not dictionary definitions, whereas "literally" received this special treatment for some reason. Those words are used almost like slang, whereas "literally" is not. The context in which these words are used differs. "Literally" must fit in the same space all the time but can convey radically different meanings while in that space, something those other words cannot do. It seems to require more context than the other words and, as it stands now, it's not a good word to be using until things clear up a little.

I suppose I'm okay with it as a part of speech, but it wrecks the credibility of a writer in my eyes when I see it being used that way on paper. Speech is more nuanced than writing and it's easier to figure out what definition the person is using. In writing, there is too much setup required for "literally" to be used as an intensive. People try but they do not seem to succeed often. It's not worth the trouble.

Meh, but what can I do. I've never used the word much and I'll probably just avoid using it in writing. I even hate how it sounds when people use it in speech. Perhaps I just need some more time to get accustomed to this.


I actually hadn't noticed that the informal usage of bad or sick wasn't listed in dictionaries. I'd be interested in hearing an editors justification of that, honestly - I think they should be in dictionaries but clearly labelled as non-standard.

I can understand not wanting to see it in formal writing. In essays or other such works, writers are expected concise and clear. Using non-standard vernacular is a quick and easy way to throw that out the window. Teachers and figures of authority in the "real world" won't start accepting literally as an intensive simply because it is entered into the dictionary as such (and marked as informal).

However, as a colloquialism it is perfectly valid. If the language changes enough and literally completely transitions to the non-standard definition (as terrific did), then of course standards should be adjusted accordingly. We aren't at that point yet, so I think it is necessary to find a balance and accept that language is a living thing. Largely, I think that when it comes down to it, so many latch onto words like literally simply because it has become fashionable to express outrage over it. I don't see many people having a fit over terrific meaning great or various spelling reforms, such as the removal of the æ ligature and subsequent removal of the a in words that used it (e.g. encyclopedia, eon).
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Posted 7/20/15 , edited 7/21/15


From xkcd.
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Posted 7/20/15
hahahaha
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Posted 7/20/15 , edited 7/20/15
More irony in the fact that the original meaning of the word literal is not literal. We do not understand words or sentences literally. Because letters on their own do not have a meaning. Otherwise cat would be related to car and so on.
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Posted 7/20/15
I use "literally" when it's literally what I'm saying.
I use "practically" when it's close to what I'm saying.

Then I sometimes add "like" just for the hell of it.
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Posted 7/20/15 , edited 7/20/15
I've only used "literally" when I described situations that might sound unbelievable or incredible or when I'm describing an unfortunate miscommunication of meaning.

"He literally drank a shot every three minutes for an hour."
"I told her an idiom but she took the words literally."
"She was literally close to death after that accident."

I suppose it's not a very necessary word, though.
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Posted 7/20/15
Grammar is dead. Viva la slang.

Honestly, this doesn't bother me at all unless they say literally in every sentence. But there is an informal definition.. look it up.
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Posted 7/21/15
Doesn't bother me, people constantly use words incorrectly. Even using 3 letters to make a full sentence. I just mildly dislike it sometimes.
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Posted 7/21/15
Improperly using the word literally is literally the worst thing you can do.
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