Literally: a confusion of meaning

The colloquial use in some circles of the word literal or literally to mean an exaggeration, or a sense of the emphatic figurative, is both annoying and confusing. If one is to use a metaphor that is found suitable to convey feeling, or irony, don’t say that it is meant literally, as that means the opposite of what is intended. If one were to say, I was struck to the heart and then added literally, instead of the intended meaning of surprise, the listener receives an image of being struck with a knife, javelin, or other sharp object, or fist, or perhaps even a blood clot.

To say literally conveys that no metaphor was used, that the meaning is to be understood as stated. Most people confuse this for an attempt to express the suitability of their metaphor or statement. I felt like I was struck to the heart is the correct figurative expression, when some incorrectly say, I was struck to the heart, literally.

©2009 David Egan Evans.