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  • One of my pet hates, I wrote a blog post about the misuse of ‘literally’ a few months ago. An excerpt:

    Just over a year ago now I was trapped on a bus with a schoolgirl who informed everyone loudly that she was *literally* going to DIE if her iphone didn’t arrive the next morning. I was reminded of her tonight, when a student on my train announced to her friends that she would *actually* kill herself if she had to stand up for the 20 minute journey up to Banbury.

    Twenty minutes later she was still whining loudly about the fact that the train was *actual carnage*, and I was about ready to buy her a razor blade. Or at least deliver a lecture on the etymological roots of ‘carnage’, potentially including a demonstration…

  • Firstly, ‘literally’ is very rarely used in the way the purists think it should be; it is almost used as an intensifier of one sort or another. I think people perhaps confuse adverbs of manner (figuratively), and intensifiers. We often use intensifiers in ways that differ from their original meaning – ‘that’s terribly kind of you’, ‘it was ridiculously expensive.’.

    In fact I would suggest that ‘literally’ is the perfect intensifier for those hyperbolic expressions like ‘I (literally) jumped out of my skin’. What better way to strengthen a statement that something impossible happened to you than to say it really, actually happened.

    And funnily enough, nobody criticises other words when used like this. If someone says ‘I literally died of shame’, there are immediate knee-jerk shouts of ‘No you didn’t, you figuratively died of shame’, but if they say ‘I nearly died of shame’, nobody says, ‘No you didn’t; you were nowhere death’. And if I say ‘It’s really raining cats and dogs out there’, nobody says ‘No, it’s not really raining cats and dogs, only figuratively’.