This is literally happening

15 Aug This is literally happening

I literally cannot believe this.

As all of you grammar Nazis cringe reading that first sentence – just wait.

According to CNN, the definition of literally is no longer the literal definition of literally. (Say that three times fast.)

Apparently Google, Merriam-Webster and Cambridge have all gotten on board with adding the informal definition of literally to their dictionaries.  Previously, the definition had been limited to “In a literal manner or sense; exactly: The driver took it literally when asked to go straight over the traffic circle.”

Now, to the chagrin of my former (and current) English teachers, that definition has been expanded to include: “used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feelings.”

A quick office poll I conducted showed that most people were not pleased with this change (granted – we are an office of grammar nerds). I, for one, can admit that I have used the word incorrectly on occasion, but at least I realize I am using it wrongly – so that counts for something, right? Given that, I am not exactly sure where I stand on the change.

On the one hand, the dictionary doesn’t consist of some elderly board that rules with an iron-fist over the English language. Changes to languages do naturally occur, and they should be reflected and documented. And there are far worse words or definitions to have been included (bootylicious anyone?).

However, actively diluting the use of long-established words for the sake of people who have been constantly misusing them doesn’t set much of a precedent for properly using grammar.

So Sounding Board readers – what are your thoughts? Are we literally killing the English language right now?

Kathryn Kaplan
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