Tony Woodlief has literally had it up to here [oh, if only I had an embeddable video for this, to show you precisely where “here” is] with this particular misconstruction:
“Literally” doesn’t mean “really.” It’s not a word that you put in front of some other words to show that, unlike the rest of your lackluster sentence, this is the part you really totally completely, like, absolutely mean. And it doesn’t mean figuratively, or metaphorically. “Literally” means that it actually happened.
So if you tell me that you’re “literally going to hijack this meeting,” I’m liable to go all Jet Li on you. If you tell me that viewers of the latest Star Trek movie “quite literally get to pick up the very end of a new thread,” I’m going to imagine dorks in fake Spock ears crawling about the theater floor in search of a string. If you write that the Columbine murderers “literally put a scar across the American Flag,” I’m going to suggest that this is the least of their crimes. If you declare in your headline: “USA Today fights for its life, literally,” I’m going to insist that unless the newspaper’s representatives are in fact in a deathmatch, you are mistaken.
Me, I’d like to see someone go all Jet Li on USA Today. And dorks in fake Spock ears are running about eight and a third cents each these days. Which may or may not explain this:
Our words have entered the realm of fast food. They don’t offer much in the way of nutritional value, and so we dream up ways to enhance a flimsy burger by giving it extra-hot jalapeno cheese. We don’t just say, “I was frightened.” We say, “I was totally, like, so, so frightened.” For the love, people. Buy a freaking thesaurus. Literally.
Future tweet: OMG the thesaurus is starting to freak!
Now if someone would just explain to me how “peruse,” which used to mean “to examine or consider with attention and in detail” [Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 8th edition, 1981], came to mean simply “read.”