Literally, you’re killing me…

A brief complaint about ‘literally’.

The word ‘literally’ is meant to emphasize the truth and accuracy of a statement or description or to express exact equivalence with the meaning of each individual word given.

In the first case, you might say, “The house was literally shaken from its foundation during the earthquake.” This is meant to convey the idea that the house is no longer attached to the foundation on which it was built. Really. For real. Not exaggerating.

In the second case —expressing equivalence— you might say, “tempus fugit literally means time flies.” It is a word-for-word translation of the Latin phrase.

But you didn’t ‘literally’ die when Taylor Swift liked your Instagram post.

How ironic that a term designed to emphasize a statement has transformed into just the opposite. It has, in fact, evolved to mean ‘figuratively’ in most cases! The misuse and overuse of ‘literally’ has at a minimum, diluted its meaning. For example, if you tell someone you are literally losing your mind, are they going to advise you to seek psychiatric help? Doubtful.

I wish this tendency to overuse ‘literally’ would fade into obscurity. And I hope I don’t sound like a grumpy old school teacher. [Yes, I know I do…]