: in a literal sense or manner : actually <took the remark literally> <was literally insane>
: in effect : virtually <will literally turn the world upside down to combat cruelty or injustice — Norman Cousins>
defined for English-language learners
Usage Discussion of LITERALLY
Since some people take sense 2 to be the opposite of sense 1, it has been frequently criticized as a misuse. Instead, the use is pure hyperbole intended to gain emphasis, but it often appears in contexts where no additional emphasis is necessary.
Examples of LITERALLY
- Many words can be used both literally and figuratively.
- He took her comments literally.
- He's a sailor who knows his ropes, literally and figuratively.
- The term “Mardi Gras” literally means “Fat Tuesday” in French.
- The story he told was basically true, even if it wasn't literally true.
- … make the whole scene literally glow with the fires of his imagination. —Alfred Kazin, Harper's, December 1968
- Even Muff did not miss our periods of companionship, because about that time she grew up and started having literally millions of kittens. —Jean Stafford, Bad Characters, 1954
- Lily, the caretaker's daughter, was literally run off her feet. Hardly had she brought one gentleman into the little pantry … than the wheezy hall-door bell clanged again and she had to scamper along the bare hallway to let in another guest. —James Joyce, Dubliners, 1914
- … yet the wretch, absorbed in his victuals, and naturally of an unutterable dullness, did not make a single remark during dinner, whereas I literally blazed with wit. —William Makepeace Thackeray, Punch, 30 Oct. 1847
Origin of LITERALLY
First Known Use: 1533
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