Monday, February 1, 2010

The much-abused adverb “literally” (2)

As I illustrated in a recent post, careless writers habitually abuse the adverb “literally.” In an attempt to intensify a figurative expression, they confusingly add “literally” – unaware that “literally” in this case means “I don’t mean this figurative expression figuratively.”

Careful writers avoid this mistake. They use “literally” correctly or not at all. There are many more careless writers than careful writers; that’s why we so rarely see the word “literally” used correctly. Here’s a recent example of a correct use:

An example of “literally” used correctly

A January 10 article on NewsBusters appeared under this headline:

“Venezuela Slipping Into Socialist/Statist Darkness, Figuratively and Literally.”

The article listed the headlines of recent wire stories:

“Venezuela weakens currency for 1st time in 5 years.”

“Chavez Says He’ll Seize Businesses That Raise Prices.”

“Chavez announces new discount ‘socialist’ stores.”

“Venezuela faces risk of devastating power collapse.”

The Takeaway: Don’t use “literally” unless you mean it literally.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this blog is to show and explain examples of clear and unclear writing and speech. Accordingly, I select examples for the diction they contain, not the ideas they express. I promote no political position – unless you consider clarity a political position.

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