Literally, Figuratively Speaking

Of course it's an old and oft noted gaffe to use the word 'literally' as an intensifier, as in 'She yelled so loud she literally blew my head off', when, of course, the person doesn't mean that they actually lost their head.

Or so I thought until last night, when, laying awake in my unheated London flat, I suddenly realized the truth: the person in question is using the word 'literally' figuratively! And I mean literally figuratively, at least in the figurative sense of literally.

Doesn't that clear everything up for you?


  1. gil mann2:55 PM

    For all intensive purposes, that's true.

  2. I am literally paralyzed with shock. I can't even move my fingers to type this message.

  3. Anonymous5:06 PM

    Nunnburg said:

    In the end, this is an eternal story of original sin and redemption. It's natural enough for
    us to use literally in a loose way to "affirm the truth of an exaggeration," as Bierce put it. If
    "I'm starving" is hyperbole, then "I'm literally starving" is simply more so. And when you
    think about it, the critics' objection to that use of literally is rather odd — it amounts to saying
    that literally is the only word in the language that can never be used in a figurative way. Even
    so, most of us come around once we become aware of the ridicule that we can come in for
    when we use literally loosely — "You don't mean you were literally floating on air?"

  4. I am literally knocked out by your comments!

  5. That is one of my major pet peeves.

  6. Anonymous11:12 AM

    Now, how can we use "pedantic" figuratively?

  7. Anonymous6:12 PM

    Bartkid sez,
    Now, that begs the question, is this the exception that proves the rule?

  8. I think you mean "raises the question". To beg the question is logically fallacious.

  9. Somehow this reminds me of falsely claiming that "be" is a verb, when in fact it is the name of a verb, and therefore a noun. Oh, and the "literally" thing is a pet peeve of mine, too.

  10. "old and oft noted"

    I`m old and often noted it, at least to myself, but I never heard anyone else do so, Gene. How far back have people been commenting on the metaphorical use of "literally"?

  11. James Rothfeld8:17 AM

    Even worse: virtually.

    She was virtually helpless in face of the attack. ... Which begs the question - was she helpless or not?

  12. She was virtually helpless in face of the attack. ... Which begs the question - was she helpless or not?

    TGGP said...

    I think you mean "raises the question". To beg the question is logically fallacious.

    7:02 PM

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