literally, again

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed May 15 21:07:35 UTC 2013

The article places the label "WRONG" on the following use of "literally":

I literally can't wrap my head around it!

Yet, it is acceptable to treat this negative statement as accurate in
a literal sense. It would be difficult to wrap one's head around
anything in a physical sense. Perhaps "I wrapped my head around my
cerebellum" might work for a neonate with developing skull plates.
Maybe the writer noticed the presence of a metaphor and did not
attempt any further analysis.


On Wed, May 15, 2013 at 12:00 AM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: literally, again
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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.
> LH
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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