Sunday, March 21, 2021

"Literally devoured the books": Describing the prescriptivist proscription of the figurative "literally" as an intensifier

A student wrote that she "literally devoured books" as a child. Many people dislike this use of "literally" because they say that she actually only figuratively "devoured" the books, and not literally. Yet this figurative sense of "literally" as an intensifier, in which "literally" means "figuratively" and emphasizes what it modifies, is common enough to be defined in dictionaries as "virtually". So my "descriptivist" perspective says that "prescriptivists" who condemn this usage should stop doing so because language is what people do with it, not what "ought" to be done with it. Still, any attempt at a complete description of this sense of "literally" should include the prescriptivist proscription of it. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 March 2021)


Devouring books...... by Wallace Edwards (avec images ...
Unknown artist


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