We all succumb to grammatical sloppiness from time to time. I, for example, regularly split infinitives and end sentences in prepositions. But one error I cannot abide is using "literally" to mean exactly the opposite.
Apparently, I am the outlier. Following Merriam-Webster, Cambridge, and an appalling list of others, Google is the latest to add a new definition for "literally":
Merriam-Webster includes the definition, "in effect: virtually," with this discussion:
"Since some people take sense 2 to be the opposite of sense 1, it has been frequently criticized as a misuse. Instead, the use is pure hyperbole intended to gain emphasis, but it often appears in contexts where no additional emphasis is necessary."
MediaBistro lists other sources that have evolved their definitions, for example, Oxford:
"Oxford Dictionaries begrudgingly admitted the shift: 'In recent years an extended use of literally (and also literal) has become very common, where literally (or literal) is used deliberately in non-literal contexts, for added effect, as in they bought the car and literally ran it into the ground. This use can lead to unintentional humorous effects (we were literally killing ourselves laughing) and is not acceptable in formal contexts, though it is widespread.'"
Cambridge, which refers to an "informal" use: "used to emphasize what you are saying."
Parks and Recreation fans: here's a compilation of Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) saying "literally":
- What's your view? Should we accept the evolving definition or literally fight it to the death?
- What other words are misused and considered acceptable in some circles?