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The Fine Print

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Ray Girvan

The story's a lot more complicated. See Language Log - Literally: a history ( http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002611.html ) which is citing the OED editor Jesse Sheidlower's article The Word We Love To Hate ( http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_good_word/2005/11/the_word_we_love_to_hate.html ).

Their thrust is that the use of "literally" to mean virtually/figuratively is actually about 250 years old, and long co-existed with "literally" = not figuratively. What's new is not its use to mean "figuratively", but the complaint that to do so is wrong.

George Colman and David Garrick, The Clandestine Marriage (1766)
---I am literally---the humblest / of your servants.

Frances Brooke, The History of Emily Montague, Vol. IV (1769)
He is a fortunate man to be introduced to such a party of fine women at his arrival; it is literally to feed among the lilies.

John F. Ptak

Thanks, Ray; now I think I know a little less about a lot more than when I started. I'll have a look at this. Thanks!

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