Literally? I don’t think so…


As regular readers know, Greg Bedard is one of our favorite Packer beat writers, so it pains me to point this out. Bedard begins his blog item on Mark Murphy’s trip to Mississippi this way:

The Green Bay Packers are attempting to bridge the divide between themselves and estranged quarterback Brett Favre.


Ummmm, no they’re not. If the Packers were to “literally” bridge the divide between between “themselves and Brett Favre” it would be an unparalleled feat of engineering. The job would require building a span that covers some 1, 102 miles between Kiln, Mississippi, and Green Bay. The longest bridge today — if you don’t count bridges that use pilings — is the Akashi Kaykio Bridge in Japan, which is only 6,532 feet.

(To be technical, if the Packers were to “literally” build a bridge between Favre and “themselves,” there would be more than 80 bridges – do we count front-office staff? – connecting the quarterback to individual Packers. More problematic is the fact that people move around a lot.)

Sorry, this has literally bothered me for years.

AT SOME POINT in the near future I will become a bratwurst. I owe this startling realization to Naomi Judd. The singer-actress-philosopher sat down with Larry King recently to promote Naomi’s Breakthrough Guide: 20 Choices to Transform Your Life. Not content to mimic the mawkish language of the self-help set, she promised to take the conversation to the “neuroscientist level.” Then she declared: “We literally become whatever we think about all day.”


Judd also speaks of “literally looking in the Mirror of Truth,” and has told a national television audience, “I literally take you by the hand in this book.”

I’m not sure how that works. But it is not nearly as evocative as the question actress Jamie Lee Curtis posed recently in an appearance on Canadian television. Curtis, fresh from the success of her own book, I’m Gonna Like Me: Letting Off a Little Self-Esteem, was making the rounds to promote her follow-up work, It’s Hard to Be Five: Learning How to Work My Control Panel.

“How many college students,” she wanted to know, “do we hear in their freshman year literally explode? They explode with drugs and alcohol, they explode with sex, they explode with eating, they explode with not being able to get work done on time. . . . These people are exploding.”

The misuse of the word “literally” is a problem not limited to female entertainers. It has been the subject of debate for decades. The literal meaning of a word or phrase, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, is one that adheres to “fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression” and is “free from exaggeration or embellishment.” But the word has been misused for so long that most lexicographers have simply given up. Many dictionaries now recognize “literally” as a generic intensifier–thus justifying the use of “literally” when its opposite, “figuratively,” is intended.

It is easy to see why the authorities are throwing in the towel. During lunch with an old friend, he told me about a comedian who was “literally side-splitting.” And then a concert that “literally knocked my socks off.” He was “literally on the fence” about gay marriage and had spent so much time at work he had “literally become one with my computer.” By the end of the meal I literally had to hold my tongue to keep from saying anything. I got several strange looks.

Keep reading here.

2 Responses to “Literally? I don’t think so…”

  1. Joe Says:

    Thank you for pointing this out. This misuse and the mislabeling of things as ironic are figuratively killing me.

  2. Kristin Says:

    Thank you !!
    I thought the exact same thing when I read that article.
    The misuse of “literally” stops me in my tracks every time. Whatever is written afterwards is lost to me. All I keep thinking is: Literally? Really? Literally? How does building a bridge and getting on a plane translate to “literally”??

    That Weekly Standard article made my day!

    I guess I’m a word geek. Lexicaholic, perhaps.

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