Literally challenged

August 20, 2013, 2:26 PM GMT+0

There is limited support among Americans for alternative uses of the word 'literally', but few make a point of correcting people who do use it figuratively.

Usage of the word 'literally' has expanded to the point that Merriam-Webster dictionary recently added in a second definition for the word, 'in effect : virtually'. Literally had long been officially limited to being used when describing something that had actually happened, but as the English language has evolved many began to use the word 'literally' as emphasis.

The latest YouGov research shows, however, that many Americans regard the literal definition of the word 'literally' as the only acceptable one. 48% say that it is only acceptable to use the word to describe something that occurred in a literal manner, while 13% think that it is only appropriate to use it for emphasis. 20% agree with Merriam-Webster say that it is acceptably used in both ways. YouGov research done in the UK discovered similar results, with 36% of Britons saying that it is appropriate to use literally for emphasis - compared to a total of 33% of Americans.

When asked whether they ever notice people using the word 'literally' incorrectly, only 7% say that they never have heard someone misuse the word. 44% say that they sometimes hear someone misuse it, while 27% say that people misuse the word frequently around them. Interestingly, younger people are far more likely to hear someone misuse 'literally', with 41% of people under the age of 30 saying that they notice it frequently compared to 27% of people aged 30 to 44.

Despite many people hearing the word misused, 49% of people never correct anyone who misuses it. 43% of Americans have sometimes corrected misuse of the word 'literally', while 5% make a point of always correcting misuse of the word.

Full results can be found here.

Image: Getty.

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