New campaign for 2015: Rid the world of the scourge we call "literally." You might not be aware of this particular issue, but if you knew the problem that it presents, I expect your semantic nerves will be as ruffled as my own. The good folks at Syracuse.com were helpful enough to give me a concise description of this linguistic conundrum: Google now gives two definitions for this adverb: 1) in a literal manner or sense; exactly. 2) used for emphasis or to express strong feeling while not being literally true.
Maybe it would help if we slowed this down just a bit. The two definitions given in an entry by one of the most trusted forums for information dispersal are contradictory. From the Greek root "lit," meaning prayer or ultimately: word. You know, like "litany," or "literature." The literal meaning of something should be the one that is found in the dictionary, unless you happen to be looking for the exact opposite. There's a word for that: obfuscation.
Yes, I know that language is an evolving thing and the rules we were all given as children were meant to be broken, that's how I get away with using words like "snarky" and "hijinks." with impunity. I should point out that I use these words to convey a specific meaning, and I don't intend to bounce around from one side of the fence to the other. In this way, I am like Horton the Elephant. I mean what I say and I say what I mean. That, and I occasionally hear voices coming from dust specks.
But enough about me. Let's talk about you. How can I get you to get behind me and push on this effort to reclaim a perfectly good word? I would like to suggest that the first thing we should do is stop using it. Not forever. Maybe just a year or so. I stopped one of my son's friends after he had used "literally" in three of four sentences as he attempted to describe his hatred of Trivia Crack. I told him that I understood he had strong feelings, but I wondered if he could tell me what "literally" was doing in those sentences. If you're stuck, use a synonym. Do you mean "emphatically?" Then say that. Do you mean "as it was written?" Say that. You will still get your point across and better than that, you will be understood.