Or, well, it didn't. & the way that you know it didn't is that I'm typing this to you now, as opposed being gurneyed out of the library in a body bag (or riding my fire-breathing stallion through Sleepy Hollow).
Of course, the popular misuse of this particular adverb is not news—not by a long shot. In fact, it's been prominently lampooned in recent years on How I Met Your Mother—& especially on Parks & Recreation, as the favorite intensifier of Rob Lowe's overexcitable Chris Traeger, for whom everything is "literally the [insert superlative here]."
Ultimately, I consider David Cross's 2002 routine the definitive rant on the subject: because when you misuse the word literally, you are using it in the exact opposite way that it was intended.
As a total word nerd & sometimes grammar snoot, the mistake bothers me, sure—but more often than not, I'm willing to let it slide. I understand that, in most cases, people are making a joke or an otherwise tongue-in-cheek statement—that they know they didn't literally die or piss themselves or stab their uncle in the face with a rake, but for whatever reason, that qualifier just feels right stuck into their phrasing.
What does bother me, though, to no end, is this:
(via Buzzfeed)I'm sorry, but how does it make even the remotest bit of sense that "used to acknowledge that something that is not literally true" would be printed as an official functioning definition for the word "literally." It's as if we decided that the new definition for the word "quickly" were "1. done with speed; 2. used to acknowledge something that was not done with speed, but, like, if you're being sarcastic about it or something."
I mean, sure, people are technically, linguistically capable of using "literally" in this context, & yes, they do so frequently. But that doesn't change the fact that, in that usage, they're either joking or they're wrong—& to canonize & codify that wrongness is at least stupid, if not actually problematic.
Because the point of having the word "literally" in the first place is to designate things that are, y'know, literal—specifically, as opposed to things that are not. In fact, as someone prone to both sarcasm & over-exaggeration, I appreciate the steadfastness of its definition: that way, its use is deliberate & its intentional misuse thus even stronger. The murkiness of having it both ways does nothing but strip the word of any & all legitimate signification—to the point where we'll all have to pepper our speech with the qualifier "& I'm using the word 'literally' here in its correct & literal sense"—which is clunky & pointless & frustrating on several levels. Because, for example, what makes Chris's character so endearingly exuberant is that he means what he says, literally, every time.
In short: catering to a mass misuse is as ridiculous as it is detrimental, to the word itself & words themselves.
In shorter: everything about this phenomenon is the fucking worst. Literally.
Today's Headphone Fodder:
Yes, this song is 43 seconds long, & yes, it's all the more fantastic for it. I've always been an advocate of songs being no longer than absolutely necessary—"Welcome to the Working Week" always one of my favorite Elvis Costello tunes—but honestly, Molina's 12-track, just-over-12-minute Dissed and Dismissed makes the Ramones look like an overindulgent jam band. The friend who recommended the album to me described it as "Rivers Cuomo stripped of all the fat," & I couldn't agree more—the perfect soundtrack for adolescent attention deficits & directionless head-bopping, shuffle-y & shoe-gaze-y & surging with power chords. (Also, note the 25 second track, "Sick Ass Riff," that is—wait for it—literally a single sick ass riff.)