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To the logophiles among us, the recent misapplication and overuse of the word “literally” has become particularly despicable. Nowadays, people seem to throw it around as flippantly as Valley Girls in ‘80s movies chirp “radical” in a mall food court. It’s just further proof of how far some people will reach to sound educated without actually wanting to think. So, for the dictionary docents who’ve had enough, or the aspiring scholars who want to mend their ways, we decided it was about time to compile a list of the absolute worst abuses of this otherwise great word. Here are our Top 5 Misuses of the Word “Literally.”
5 Any Old Damn Time You Please
“She was literally so happy to see me that she literally fell off of her chair, and I literally almost peed my pants at literally the coolest bar on the West Side. Her boyfriend literally helped her off the ground and apologized that she was so drunk. Literally in front of everybody.” My eyes are figuratively bleeding.
4 Used as a Punch Line
Chalk this up with “really?” on the list of overused punch lines that we can put in some unfunny incinerator. Like most misuses of the word literally, it is a pretentious attempt to make you look smarter than someone else — in this case by putting them down. It’s like saying, “Is that literally what you’re thinking? Is that really what you’re thinking?” Of course that’s what they’re thinking, you jerk. How could someone voice a statement without thinking it?
3 Used as a False Intensifier
When someone uses “literally” to modify whatever mood they’re in, it’s pure rubbish. Observe: “I’m literally so happy.” Again, this has to do with the pretense built up around the word. People think that including it complicates or sophisticates any sentiment. But the fact of the matter is, happy isn’t really a complex emotion. The mythos of “literally,” though, can make it sound sophisticated; then we don’t feel dopey for saying that we’re just happy. However, when you say, “I’m literally so happy,” I hear, “I’m pretty dumb, and also happy.”
2 Used as an Unnecessary Intensifier
In this sense, “literally” would be used in a misguided attempt to bolster the credibility of a wholly believable statement. Of course, they’re telling you the truth; it’s not so much reversing the meaning as trying to cram it in some place that it doesn’t belong. I believe you when you say you had fun this weekend. I also believe that the burger you ate the other day was delicious. And I believe that you only have three dollars in your pocket, because you obviously never graduated high school.
1 Used to Mean “Figuratively”
This is perhaps the most offensive of any of the Top 5, because people use the word to mean its antonym. Some examples: “The concert was so good that I literally cried rainbows.” You should get a job visiting orphanages and spreading your message of ludicrous joy and hope. “I literally know hundreds of black people.” And I’m sure they’re all glad to know you, too. “I literally had sex a thousand times this weekend.” You should go to a hospital. You must be dangerously low on some important bodily fluids.