Thursday, August 15, 2013

I Literally Don't Know How to Feel

As you may have heard, the ongoing debate over the use of the word "literally" has been getting some renewed notice over the past couple of days. It seems that people - like Rob Bricken, who wrote this article on - are bothered by Google's definition of the word, which basically says that literally can mean literally or figuratively.

My first thought (and I'd bet I wasn't alone here) was "Darn it, Google! Just because people use the word incorrectly all the time doesn't mean we have to change the definition to make them right!" I mean, the word "literally" can be "used to acknowledge that something is not literally true"? Really?!

Then I realized that Google's new definition probably isn't an isolated incident. And I was wright. and both have similar definitions.

And I just have to laugh at the usage notes on both of these pages. People might criticize us for giving a word two opposing definitions... but we're going to go ahead and do it anyway.

Coming, as I do, from a family of admitted grammar snobs, I think my initial reaction was understandable. We mostly come down on the "millions of wrongs don't make a right" side of the debate, particularly when it comes to language. But eventually my natural curiosity took over, and I started to wonder what other people had to say about it.

I read several articles, and the opinions were basically divided between "this is a travesty and we must all be angry about it" to "it's not a big deal - get over it." And most of them pointed out that this debate has been going on for a really long time (which sparked the thought that perhaps it isn't necessary to get quite so worked up over it any more.)

So, honestly, I find myself a bit torn between the two schools of thought. Part of me is still really bothered by changing things just to accommodate the ill-informed. While part of me doesn't know if it's important enough to expend energy worrying about it. Perhaps, like Martha Gill suggests in this article from The Guardian, "literally" has become one of those words that is becoming meaningless, and we should just stop using it. Or perhaps, as Tom Chivers suggests in this article from The Telegraph, it's not all that big of a deal, and maybe we should just relax a a little bit.

One thing is sure, though. If this debate is bothering you (regardless of which side you are on) there is a way to get over it. Watch this video, and the word will literally cease to have any meaning. Problem solved. ;)

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