My favourite misuse of “literally” came from an august editor at an august publishing house. A debut novel, she declared to a group of journalists, had “literally broken her heart”. We all, of course, then made sure to steer well clear.
Not being a football follower, I didn’t know that Jamie Redknapp had form in this area, however, and I’m rather impressed. I think “he had to cut back inside on to his left, because he literally hasn’t got a right foot” is brilliantly surreal.
Anyway, Slate has brought music to the ears of grammar sticklers everywhere, pointing us towards an ingenious new browser plug-in which replaces the word “literally” with “figuratively” on articles across the web. (“That’s literally all it does,” writes the developer on the extension’s site; it already has one, five-star review: “This is figuratively the best invention of all time,” says a user, predictably enough.)
The linguistic abuse of literally has got out of control – even the OED now includes an informal definition of literally as “used for emphasis while not being literally true”.
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