Trend Watch

Literally

When:

Lookups spiked on August 12, 2013.

Why:

A Reddit user posted a dictionary definition of literally that included the informal or emphatic use of the word, as in "Steam was literally coming out of his ears." The post was titled "We did it guys, we finally killed English."

The post generated enough concern that dozens of newspapers published articles decrying the dictionary's inclusion of the figurative sense of literally.

Dictionaries like Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary list the figurative sense of literally because the word is often used that way. (The meanings of many words have evolved over time. For instance, long before nice meant "enjoyable," it meant "finicky.")

We're sympathetic to those who dislike the second sense of literally, but it tends to be very obvious when literally is used figuratively, as in the example in our definition: <will literally turn the world upside down to combat cruelty or injustice — Norman Cousins>.

Either way, this death notice for English comes late: Merriam-Webster added this sense to the dictionary in 1909.

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