Things I Can’t: The Abuse of the Word “Literally”
Things are spinning wildly out of control. The major English dictionaries – all of them – have decided to add the figurative definition of the word “literally” to the literal definition. I don’t even. . . as if it wasn’t irritating enough that I’ve had to endure everyone and their mother (not literally – it’s just an expression) use “literally” as everything from metaphorical expression to a filler word, I now have to deal with it being justified by the stronghold of the English language. Note to Merriam-Webster: peer pressure is destructive. Fight it.
Some will accuse me of being an English major snob, but no, this is just straight ridiculous on every level. A few examples, taken from my personal interactions:
“Literally, he’s just like that. He literally is just such a cool person, I love him”.
“Literally, if you want to do that, just text me”.
“There were literally 40 billion people there”.
“I just, literally, am so mad. Like, it’s just literally uuuugh”.
“I literally want to slap and/or shake everyone who misuses the word ‘literally’ and tell them how dumb they sound”.
Guess which one of those was not figurative, but literal. This is bullshit. It’s the new “like”. It’s even the new “um”. It’s a lazy, unintelligent, overused bit of verbal fluff that most often comes with the accent of a Bop or a Bro. I’ve also heard it used in the technically correct sense of the word, but unnecessarily or redundantly, as in “I literally walked to the neighbor’s house”. Yes. Yes you did. That is absolutely accurate.
Look, I’m all for cultural adoptions and adaptations of words and phrases – I can and would love to semantically nerd out with you about the ways certain words and phrases have shifted in meaning over the centuries – but this is too much. It has done a complete 180 in meaning in an absurdly short period of time. It sounds dumb, ignorant, airheady, and immature. You’re better than that. Let’s all resolve to be better from now on.
Or I might literally start slapping people in the street.