Monday, March 22, 2021

The story of "literally"

The claim that "literally" should only be used "literally" tells a story: once the word had one meaning, then it began to be used in another way, and only the first, original meaning is legitimate. But the actual history of "literally" is far more interesting: it has had not two but seven meanings (or at least there are seven definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary, two of which are obsolete). All those meanings have been in use since the eighteenth century, including the sense used by Mark Twain in 1876 ("Tom was literally rolling in wealth") that is so often condemned and was only first challenged in the early twentieth century. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 March 2021)


Norman Rockwell, "Tom Sawyer (Whitewashing the Fence)", 1936

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