Is This, Literally, the End of Communication?

BY MATT POE

There’s been quite the controversy in the English language, and hundreds of people have asked me what I think.

Literally? Well, no, but I keep asking myself what I think.

If you haven’t seen it, yet, dictionaries have altered the definition of the word “literally” to include a definition as it is used today. Here’s what Google added, and Dictionary.com. And Merriam-Websters. Even the Oxford English Dictionary, as shared by The Daily Mail.

The Guardian and Gizmodo and many other news and information sites are up in arms about this. Literally up in arms? Well, no, but you know what I mean.

What the word “literally,” first and foremost, means is a literal, strict sense, to reflect the factual truth (e.g., There were literally thousands at the rally. Yes, by counting, you can confirm there were thousands). The added definition reflects how popular culture uses the word: in effect, virtually, used for emphasis to show strong feeling (e.g., I literally could not get out of bed this morning. Yes you could; you’re here, you got out of bed. You just mean it was very difficult for you).

I can tell you that my personal feeling when I see or hear the word “literally” misused is to jam pencils in my eyes and ears. Literally? No, but you know what I mean.

On the one hand, the word “literally” does not need to be misused for emphasis or strong feeling. There are other, more appropriate and effective ways to do so—hyperbole, for example (e.g., jamming pencils in my eyes and ears).

Oh, but isn’t it awful when words change meaning? You mean like the word “awful,” which once meant to inspire wonder and awe, but now means something negative?

In the end, in my opinion, communication with the English language continues, regardless of the changes.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be cringing, rolling my eyes, and crying about it—literally.

57 thoughts on “Is This, Literally, the End of Communication?

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