The ‘literal’ truth

Stopping by Avant Card to pick up a birthday card on my way home one day, I saw a card that read, “Misuse of ‘literally’ makes me figuratively insane.”

I could not believe I had found a card that described my feelings toward the absurdity of modern vernacular so perfectly. Ever since it became popular to misuse “literally,” the minuscule part of me that still believes in humanity has died a little.

From what I’ve gathered from the media — actually quite a reliable source on this topic — this is a pretty common pet peeve. On an episode of “How I Met Your Mother” titled “Spoiler Alert,” the show’s five main characters discuss each other’s flaws, thereby “spoiling” each other for everyone else. For example, Lily chews too loudly, and Marshall sings about everything he does.

But Robin’s flaw is the worst of all. In my opinion, hers is the most cringe-inducing, headache-causing grammatical error one can make, if only because it is one of the most common. Ted points out that Robin’s flaw is constantly misusing the word “literally,” citing a steamy lovemaking session that prompted her to say, “That literally blew my mind.”

While the others believe this flaw isn’t entirely awful and call Ted out for always correcting others’ grammar, I have to say I completely sympathize with the guy. This isn’t just a minor annoyance committed by preteens and trend-followers. This is an epidemic, people.

Don’t believe me? Take Google, which has sadly fallen victim to the “literally” plague. Google “literally,” and this dictionary definition pops up: “used for emphasis or to express strong feeling while not being literally true.”

Really, Google? Not even the “informal” tag above this definition can make up for this. Contrary to popular belief, there is a word to describe something that’s not actually literal. This word is “figurative.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t roll right off the tongue, so you don’t  hear people saying, “That new Miley Cyrus song is figuratively the worst thing I’ve ever heard.”

The problem here isn’t that most people are illiterate and misunderstand the meaning of “literal.” It’s that they don’t care about the technical correctness of verbal trends. And I’m sure that, no matter how many frustrated grammar freaks like myself rant about the misuse of “literal,” its use for hyperbolic effect will continue to increase.

But let this be a fair warning to all: If you do misuse “literally” around me, I am hereby entitled to figuratively punch you in the face.

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