literally, again

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed May 15 04:00:58 UTC 2013

On May 14, 2013, at 11:51 PM, Victor Steinbok wrote:

> People get upset about the strangest things...
> No, not spam--a BuzzFeed piece on "literally".
>    VS-)
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

'But since more and more people are using the wrong “literally,” dictionaries are starting to add the wrong definition to their entries for “literally.”'

--like the OED, with cites dating back to the 18th c.,

c. colloq. Used to indicate that some (freq. conventional) metaphorical or hyperbolical expression is to be taken in the strongest admissible sense: ‘virtually, as good as’; (also) ‘completely, utterly, absolutely’...

1769   F. Brooke Hist. Emily Montague IV. ccxvii. 83   He is a fortunate man to be introduced to such a party of fine women at his arrival; it is literally to feed among the lilies.
1801   Spirit of Farmers' Museum 262   He is, literally, made up of marechal powder, cravat, and bootees.
1825   J. Denniston Legends Galloway 99   Lady Kirkclaugh, who, literally worn to a shadow, died of a broken heart.
1863   F. A. Kemble Jrnl. Resid. Georgian Plantation 105   For the last four years..I literally coined money.
1876   ‘M. Twain’ Adventures Tom Sawyer ii. 20   And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth.

(Nice images for the BuzzFeed!)

And then there's Jesse's nice Slate piece,, about which I'm sure BuzzFeed could care less.


The American Dialect Society -

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