I’ve always been chuffed at the apparently catholic use of the word ‘literally.’ I was always the first to protest the egregious use of ‘literally’ to emphasize a figurative statement. I attempted to stint this redundant custom for years. I desperately cleaved to the original meaning of the word, and verbally sanctioned my peers when they used it incorrectly. However, I’ve recently had to resign my campaign and yield to what I thought was the raveling of the meaning of the word, when I learned that my point was moot. I was nonplussed to come across this article, and learn of my oversight of the literary phenomenon known as auto-antonyms.
Ok I’m done speaking in auto-antonyms. The point here is that language, like everything else, is in a constant state of change. Words and phrases adopt new meanings and connotations throughout their usage. The ultimate purpose behind language is to convey meaning, and if you need to flip the meaning of a word on its end to do so, go for it! The most influential linguists in history did not get that way by following the rules. From Shakespeare to Mark Twain (an offender of the ‘literally’ misuse) writers have invented new words, gave phrases new meanings, and generally turned language against itself in order to get their message across.
So we should literally rejoice when that annoying girl in the laundromat uses ‘literally’ for every other word, because she’s following in the footsteps of some of the greats! Well… maybe not, but you get the point.