Literally and Figuratively

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Sun Apr 17 02:04:35 UTC 2005

In a message dated 4/16/05 2:49:57 PM, laurence.horn at YALE.EDU writes:

> The difference is that Mr. Singer was using "literally" figuratively
> and vice versa.    ;-)

I've seen many instances of the use of "literally" where the speaker could 
not possibly mean the word in its ordinary dictionary sense, but it seems to me 
that these generally do not MEAN 'figuratively', they mean simply 
'intensifier'. People who do not know the ordinary dictionary meaning of "literally" would 
not necessarily have interpreted it to mean 'metaphorically'. For example, if 
one hears, "George Bush was literally sweating during the first presidential 
debate," there would be no cues to suggest that the speaker was contrasting 
the reality of the situation with one in which Bush was not in fact sweating, 
but in which "sweating" might have been used in some metaphorical sense. So the 
hearer would (more likely) assume that "literally" means something like 
'absolutely'--an intensifier--rather than 'and I am not speaking metaphorically 

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