Dictionaries add informal definition of ‘literally’

Merriam-Webster, Macmillan and Google all say it’s all right to use “literally” to add emphasis to a statement or describe something figuratively. What do you think?


If you ever want to rile up a communicator, use the word “literally” incorrectly.

The correct definition of “literally” is to describe something in a literal sense and without exaggeration. But many people often use the word to do the opposite—add emphasis or describe something in a way that can’t possibly be true. For example:

• “I literally died of embarrassment.”
• “I’m literally insane with jealousy over her shoes.”
• “The puppy was so cute I literally exploded from excitement.”

But unfortunately for communicators, this informal use of “literally” is becoming more mainstream. It is used so often, in fact, that several dictionaries have added it as part of the word’s official definition. Google, Merriam-Webster and Macmillan Dictionary have all included this informal definition.

This is what Google’s entry looks like:

Do you think the informal definition belongs in the dictionary?

Kristin Piombino is associate editor of Ragan.com.

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