I have received response to my opening axiom. Not an overwhelming response, but a few people who have acknowledged my pain. Sadly so far, that affirmation’s been worse than neutralized for people nevertheless think I am complaining about the word’s misuse. Most commonly, I am sure, they are triggered by the presentation of the word and assume that I, like them, foster the much longer established pet peeve. But I honestly don’t give a shit about things like “irregardless” or persons of prominence pronouncing it nuk-yə-ler.
It’s not improbable that many haven’t noticed the latest trend. Like, they are still living in the world wherein “literally” is abused for figurative emphasis — which, to be fair, it still is and always will be — but have yet to recognize the implication of its frequency of use beyond mere misapprehension. Or it could be that those harboring the older grievance don’t care as long as literally means literally. Like, literally. But to me, even if the “like” is to mean “the same as”, the parallel “literally” nevertheless loses sense with overuse.
And of course I am wrong and none of this matters. As are the others and everything else.
People have employed “literally” in a symbolic sense for over a century. James Joyce did it. A colleague of mine whose expertise is English grammar & usage did it in a context I found baffling, until I happened upon the Joyce reference among others of apparent Irish provenance, which was the extraction of my colleague. This led me to conclude, mistakenly, I now believe, that it had long been standard Irish English. I could swear I’d read that somewhere, but I can’t find the reference anymore.
To my point, though, the latest trend grates on me more than the preceding pedant’s pet peeve ever did. I mean, the hyperbolized “He literally took his head off” is so minor a faux pas compared to the reality of literal head removal as death penalty on this planet, among many official brutalities arguably even more injudicious and inhumane. It’s when I compare that etymologically questionable metaphor to the utterance “They are literally committing war crimes!” that I find the world gone one literally too far. Like, does one ever lob the accusation that certain war crimes were practically committed, virtual killing technologies notwithstanding? “Literally” makes the accusation sound childish.
Not that the latter application is not rich already in meaning. Many dictionaries include the informal use under the aegis of accentuating what one is saying. It can also connote the equivalent of the valley girl “like”, which transposed either indicates reported speech: “She was literally, ‘Uh, no!'”, serves as facile phrasal verb together with a form of to be: “That is, literally, really cool!”, or could turn the occasionally unfortunate “uh” into pseudo-cerebral derring-doo: “We have to be judicious in how we use, like, literally, drones.”
My impulse tells me that the most common common usage is very valley. A good way to check this assumption would be to match each occurrence of “literally” against the ability to replace it with a “like” sandwiched in commas. Like, if brevity doesn’t motivate you (a comma, a space, a “like” and another comma beats “literally” in efficiency by three characters or as many sounded syllables), “like” sounds less pretentious. Unless you’re only using it to better hang with the cool kids, which, I, like, admit, is, like, how “like” became so trans-colloquial in the first place — no doubt to the bane of anyone with that pet peeve. Nat’r’ly, we don’t need either “literally” or “like” but if you want to use either to stress a point, you should be able to do so without interruption from some dick like me.
There. I’m over myself. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. As compensation for your suffering my pretentiousness, I present you with this excerpt of sportscaster Colin Cowherd exploring the je ne sent quoi of his talking tool: