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Too damn literal

Like other editors, I lead a quiet life, making the daily round from home to paragraph factory and back. Excitement is something I encounter at a remove. So it was from I tweet that I discovered that there is a raging hubbub about literally, including some heavy breathing at Buzzfeed, where someone has been reading the dictionary. 

An article by Jessica Misener, "The Wrong Definition Of 'Literally' Is Literally Going In The Dictionary," is aghast that those craven lexicographers are listing literally is used for humorous or emphatic effect, meaning not literally but figuratively. 

Well, chill. 

Would you think, if someone said, "I was so angry my head literally exploded," that it was time to hire someone to steam the bone fragments and tissue spatter from the wallpaper? No, you would immediately understand literally as an exaggeration for effect.

It bothers you that the word can be used in opposite senses? Cleave and sanction are other English words that can be used in opposite senses, requiring readers and listeners to twig to the appropriate sense from context. You can do the same thing with literally. Get a grip. 

No doubt the people troubled by the figurative literally are the same people who argue tiresomely that could care less for couldn't care less isn't logical. But, as with literally, I doubt that anyone has ever misunderstood the meaning from context. Give it a rest.

And lay off the lexicographers. They are merely recording how people use words. They are not some tinpot Academy of English legislating the language, and the usages they record are not compulsory for you. 

Show's over. Move along, folks. Nothing to see here. 


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