Remember back in August when Merriam-Webster officially added words like “selfie” and “twerking” to the dictionary? (Thanks, Miley!) Well, they made another slightly less obvious, but just as interesting alteration: they officially changed the meaning of the word “literally” to mean “in a literal sense or matter, actually; in effect, virtually.”
That’s right, fashion folks, you can start rejoicing! The word “literally” now officially means “not so literally.” So when you swing open the door(s) of your closet and exasperatedly exclaim, “I have literally nothing to wear,” you are technically speaking correctly. When you see something so amazing that you “literally die,” you are also, technically, speaking in turn. And to all the haters who literally get so annoyed when other people “misuse” the term, we hate to say it, but we told you so.
We will say, though, that all these edits to the dictionary make a person wonder the value of the written/spoken word; the word “literally” is derived, obviously, from the word “literal,” which is still defined by Merriam-Webster as “completely true and accurate, not exaggerated.” So, how can it mean both?
We’re not standing in opposition here, we’re just saying: it seems like the folks over at M-W are allowing the zeitgeist to sway their edits quite a bit! However, this “Ask the Editor” video, which depicts the figurative uses of the word “literally” throughout literary history, just goes to show: if both James Joyce and Rachel Zoe think it’s grammatically acceptable, then it is.
So what do you think of the change? Is it literally the best thing ever, or does it miss the mark?