Beside myself with anger, but not literally so
Most folks have some “word peeves” – some common use of language that irritates them to no end. What I can’t abide is the word “literally” used to mean “figuratively,” as in “I was literally beside myself in anger.”
What I didn’t realize until recently is that this language atrocity is nothing new; I’m just one of a long line of folks who have been annoyed by “misuse” of literally for generations (literally!). From dictionary.com:
Usage Note: For more than a hundred years, critics have remarked on the incoherency of using literally in a way that suggests the exact opposite of its primary sense of “in a manner that accords with the literal sense of the words.” In 1926, for example, H.W. Fowler cited the example “The 300,000 Unionists… will be literally thrown to the wolves.” The practice does not stem from a change in the meaning of literally itself – if it did, the word would long since have come to mean “virtually” or “figuratively” – but from a natural tendency to use the word as a general intensive, as in They had literally no help from the government on the project, where no contrast with the figurative sense of the words is intended.
So although I will continue to be annoyed by hearing “literally” used as an intensifier, I cannot claim it’s proof that the English language is being degraded. The language isn’t degrading; it came out of the box this way.
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