Not Literally

Jeff Strabone in his blog:

Far be it from me to advocate syntactical conservatism, but one of our most valuable words is experiencing an intolerable slippage into its opposite, and all of us who care about language must do what we can to stop it. I’ve always appreciated the ceaseless engine of innovation that is language. For me, the 1980’s in particular stand out as a period of great ferment as hip hop shook up the English-speaking world. We are all the richer for having ‘mad’ as an adverb (as in ‘mad phat’), ‘science’ restored to its original Latin meaning (as in ‘dropping science’), and ‘dis’ as a diminutive for ‘disrespect’. But there is one word whose literal meaning cannot be allowed to change, and that word is ‘literal’.

02_content01People are increasingly using ‘literally’ to mean ‘figuratively’. Here is an instance from the floor of the U.S. Senate on March 9, 2007. The speaker was Senator Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana:

Now, normally this redtape is a nuisance. We work through it. It is inconvenient. It is a nuisance. But we just sort of move through the redtape of Government. But in this case, it is literally a noose that is around the necks of people, of business owners, large and small, family members—strangling their efforts to recover their communities that were devastated.

Is it time for Northern troops to occupy Louisiana again as they did during the Reconstruction? Is someone literally lynching people down South with nooses made of literal red tape? Senator Landrieu seems to think so.

More here.  [Thanks to Asad Raza.]