The 300-year history of using ‘literally’ figuratively

Kory Stamper:

The emphatic “literally” is not a millennial invention; it goes back to the 1700s at least, though Smith gets it right that it’s English. John Dryden, a man who is best known as the founder of literary criticism and the prohibition against the terminal preposition, was an early user of the emphatic “literally.” Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Vladimir Nabokov, and David Foster Wallace all used the emphatic “literally” in their works. Even Lindley Murray, 19th-century grammarian, uses the hyperbolic “literally” in his own grammar — and he was such a peever that he thought children, along with animals, shouldn’t be referred to with the pronoun “who,” as “who” conveys personhood, and only creatures with the ability to be rational are actually people.

Author: Matthew Culnane

Sometime social and UX person working in education. Interested in food, books, music, others. Working out how it all works.