English Language literally broken???

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Name: Have we literally broken the English Language?
Date: 14/7/13
Author: Martha Gill

Key Ideas:

  • The word ‘Literally’ has changed meaning from literally to figuratively
  • Martha is very strongly opposed to the use of the word literally
  • There is nothing that can be done to stop this from happening, other than ignoring the word completely
  • The word literally has started to change since 1827 and is now getting old
  1. “Mucking about with its meaning isn’t clever or inventive any more”
  2. “To use it is to teeter on the edge of a conversational wormhole”
  3. “There isn’t much to be done”
Language Features: Language change, broadening, denotative vs connotative meanings, lexicology, the meaning shift of a word, contextual impacts on the meaning of Literally.
Course Aspects: Unit 3 - AoS 1: Informal Language - effects of context on language choices, analyse the nature, features and functions of informal written texts, 
Personal Opinion: I believe that Martha is a little too harsh on the definition of the word literally changing. She talks about how it was 'playfully abused' in 1827, and now it is just getting old. It is for when you want to over-exaggerate something for comedic effect, and people enjoy it. I agree that it can get overused, but in most cases it is something new that is brought to the English Language.

(I think she is being a buzzkill and wouldn't be fun at parties, that is literally the most honest thing I've ever said)


  • Given all of this, even when someone does use the word correctly,  it is often such a surprise to the listener that the conversation halts anyway
  • The point is that even if it was fun and surprising to force a “literally” where another word should go back in the 1800s, it’s getting a bit old now.
  •  As Google puts it, “literally” can be used “to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling”.

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