And now for the second part of my burgeoning blog series: Common English Usage Mistakes (And Why They Don’t Matter), or Why I Hate the Internet. First, allow me to sacrifice myself at the altar of public opinion with the following statement: I do not care if you use the word ‘literally’ to mean something besides literally. This loathsome statement puts me at odds with many people of great import, including the bastion of intellectually smugness that is The Oatmeal, this fucking hipster, The Boston Globe, and apparently everyone on reddit.
While I, like everyone else who remembers a time before the internet, often worry about the future of the English language and will endeavor to preserve what remains of our failing tongue when legions of leet-speaking/twittering cyberpunks come for us in the night, this particular bugbear of the internet is a non-issue. As with our previously discussed example of ‘could care less’, everyone knows exactly what someone means when they say “I LITERALLY can’t stand to look at you any more” and then continues to look. Anyone who decides to make an issue of this is doing so simply so that they can enjoy that moment of smug satisfaction they get from correcting someone on the internet. More importantly though, those people are fucking WRONG. Using literally for emphasis is an accepted usage — and this is not controversial in any way. It’s in the damn OED: “Used for emphasis or to express strong feeling while not being literally true.” Literally is a prime example of an auto-antonym, which is a word that has a meaning that is the reverse of one of its other meanings. So if you happen to be a keyboard hero who likes to call people out for totally innocent and irrelevant mistakes, not only are you a twat, but you are also on the wrong side of both history and this particular argument. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it.