The overuse and misuse of the word ‘literally’ has become one of my biggest pet peeves as of late. I could be wrong, but I think it’s a relatively recent development that comes on the heels of a format of joke that calls attention to the realization of something that is normally a saying or common metaphor. For instance, “The shit just hit the fan.” Cut to a piece of shit flying through a fan. “Literally.” Kinda funny, I suppose. In the right context, it works well enough. It’s pointing out when the expectation of something being figurative is actually being said literally.
However, people have started peppering it into their speech all the time. What they mean to say is “actually” or “incredibly” or “coincidentally” or any number of more accurate, interesting and descriptive words to express something. People say things like “I’m literally just a block away.” The ‘literal’ means absolutely nothing here. Not a damn thing. If you are trying to stress how close you are, then say something that stresses that. We know what a block is and how far away that makes you. It doesn’t sound like an exaggeration that needs to be clarified.
There are people who use ‘literally’ like ‘like’ or ‘um’. However, there is a big difference. First of all, those terms are often used to stall while thinking and mean nothing more. They are non words. ‘Literally’ has much more meaning than that. Also, ‘like’ can mean ‘approximately’ or be used to show a comparison. I say ‘like’ more often than I mean to, but it’s usually when I’m expressing something less than exact. “It’s like a mile away.” There are certainly more eloquent ways to express that but at least it means something.
‘Literally’ is not a problem when it shows up every now and then; but it has become rampant. There are people who use it in nearly ever other sentence. If they were writing this they would have said, “There are people who use it literally every other sentence.” If they were writing this, they would also be huge hypocrites... but that is another rant for another day. The point is that saying “literally every other sentence,” and, “every other sentence,” is the same thing. Of course, chances are that they are not actually saying ‘literally’ every other sentence with such consistency... which brings me to my final point.
The worst is the complete misuse of ‘literally’. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “You literally just blew my mind!” NO I FUCKING DID NOT! YOUR HEAD IS STILL INTACT! DON’T ACCUSE ME OF SUCH THINGS, I DO NOT WANT TO GO TO JAIL!
Not to mention the mess.
When you laugh too much, you are not literally going to die. When you smoke a lot of weed, you are not literally as high as a kite. When you are feeling pretty darned good, maybe you should wipe that smug smile off your face because no, you are NOT literally on cloud 9 so shut the fuck up!
Start listening for literally. Once you notice it, you’ll see it everywhere. It might not drive you nuts like it does me, but you are probably a more sane and well adjusted person.