“Literally”: a cautionary tale

Source: xkcd.com

Randall Monroe’s popular nerdy webcomic XKCD usually focuses on maths, physics and everyday situations, but his love for language and etymology occasionally comes to the fore.

A few days ago he posted a strip titled “Cautionary Ghost”, which deals with the ever-controversial prescriptivism vs descriptivism argument over the word ‘literally’. Some believe that the misuse of ‘literally’ is a heinous crime that ought to be corrected every time somebody makes the mistake; others believe we should allow the meaning of the word change to reflect its new usage (which is a lot more like the word ‘figuratively’ – i.e. not literally at all).

No matter on which side of the debate you stand, I think Monroe’s take on it is pretty amusing, and helps put it in perspective. Click the thumnail for full size.

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