If every use of the word literally were an alien, we’d be literally overrun, taken over by that large and growing crowd. The human race is clearly outnumbered by the number of times this word is used. If the vast multitude, the literal throng of literallies were to rise up and demand control of the planet, we earthlings would have to surrender. We’d be literally outnumbered!
I’m not just now noticing the overuse of the word literally. My wife and I, glancing occasionally at this or that on television, have been literally amazed at the amount people use this word. We roll our eyes every time it happens. Given how much that’s been, I’m surprised our eyeballs aren’t stuck in a sort of derisive upward glance.
I’m commenting now because of the news coverage we were watching after the earthquake a couple of days ago and what I’m expecting in the aftermath of the hurricane (and the volcano next week). Honestly, literally everyone from the-person-on-the-street-being-interviewed to even the newscasters themselves, who literally should have known better, were using the word literally.
My eyes literally popped out of my head when I saw the light start to swing.
We literally dashed out of the restaurant when it started to shake.
I literally jumped out of my skin when the earthquake was happening.
It was literally an amazing experience.
Of course my first reaction to all this was literally wrong. I at first thought, you didn’t literally jump out of your skin. You figuratively jumped out of your skin. I thought literally is when something is just like something else, as in: “The word tonsillitis literally means inflamed tonsils.” That, at least, was my first reaction to what seemed to be a misuse. Then I looked it up in Garner’s Modern American Usage, plus read this article about the word literally and learned that we (and by we I include Mark Twain and Charles Dickens) have been using literally as figuratively for a long time.
So what about this hurricane of usage I’ve been rolling my eyes at lately? Those who literally sprinkle it over their speech like Parmesan cheese over spaghetti are using it to intensify what they are saying, like actually or undeniably or really-really-really. I suppose that’s o.k. too, except that people are not just using it, they are literally overusing it.
So let’s take the pledge. Starting now, find another word to intensify something you’re saying, or just say it without revving it up any. Instead of saying, “I’m literally surrounded by literallies, just say, “I’m surrounded by literallies.” I think we all could use a rest from the awesome overuse of this word. I know I could.
I expect the hurricane will literally be more incredible than the earthquake.