Grammar and Punctuation |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation


I was so amazed, I literally hit the ceiling. Someone who has literally hit the ceiling ought to move to a place with higher ceilings.

It was literally like being in Paris. Drop literally. Nothing is "literally like." Anyone who says "literally like" doesn't understand the word.

Literally is supposed to mean "100 percent fact" … period. But not today, when, as in the previous examples, literally is often used figuratively. This is classic SLIPSHOD EXTENSION. That way madness lies.

In responsible usage, literally allows no room for poetry, analogy, hyperbole, frivolity, or any other flights of fancy. Any sentence containing literally should mean what it literally says. We are being asked to accept that sentence as fact and not interpret or infer. So if you say you were "literally stunned," we have no choice but to conclude that you were physically incapacitated.

A newspaper item told of a couple whose dreams "literally collapsed" when a fixer-upper they bought came down in a heap as they started working on it. Now, we know what the writer meant, but the house is what literally collapsed, not the dreams. How could a dream, the very essence of all that is beyond materiality, literally collapse?

One simple solution: Say "virtually": I virtually hit the ceiling. Their dreams virtually collapsed.

Virtually allows speakers and writers to enhance and embellish to their hearts' content, options they relinquish when using literally.

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