Today I want to blog about the use of the word "literally." Yesterday morning I heard an astronomer talking about the solar eclipse that just took place. He was being interviewed on NPR's Morning Edition: "It was awesome. I was literally floored." One hopes it isn't a permanent condition.
The word is abused to hilarious effect by our Vice President, among other people. Just Google "Biden literally" and you get more than three million hits. Among them, he seems especially fond of saying that the Republicans "ran the economy literally into the ground" and that he wants to "literally put money back in your pocket." Thanks, Joe! (Just be sure to keep your hands to yourself, 'kay?) He has also "literally met every major world leader" and believes that the current group of college grads is "literally the greatest generation." WOW!!
This problem literally spans the Atlantic: The UK Guardian ran a couple of articles about the (mis)use of the words, with no real solution other than to just laugh at how stupid someone "literally floating above the pitch" or that a person "literally is a greyhound" sounds, literally.
Being a math nerd, sometimes, I did find this graph pretty interesting. The gist of it is to look at "literally" as it modifies verbs. The more common a verb is, the less likely it is to be modified by "literally." It's almost as if the word "literally" is signaling, "Look out! Here comes something really unusual...be sure to listen up." Unless the speaker is Joe Biden, of course.
Of course, a post like this would literally be incomplete without one crucial YouTube clip: