OED literally redefine ‘literally’ to mean ‘literally’ and ‘not literally’ both at the same time

Siobhan Fenton
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Grammar pedants everywhere literally lose their mind…

It’s a word that has been figuratively driving grammar pedants insane almost since it first entered the English language.

But now the word ‘literally’ has been redefined in the Oxford English Dictionary – to include what is widely accepted as the ‘wrong’ definition.

It has literally even changed on google...

It has literally even changed on google…

The dictionary has altered their definition of ‘literally’ to include two contradictory meanings. They cite the word as meaning both ‘in a literal way or sense’ or the opposite meaning, ‘used for emphasis rather than being actually true’.

The dictionary change took place in September 2011 but has only just come to the attention and horror of grammar lovers. The switch has enraged people so much a facebook page has been dedicated to the worst uses of the word.


Literally errors: the worst misuses of the word ‘literally’

– Jamie Redknapp: ‘That cross to Rooney was literally on a plate’

– Jamie Redknapp: ‘This new ball is going quicker than ever, it literally explodes on the players’ foot’

– Kristen Stewart: ‘Everything in our movie is such a heightened version of reality. It’s like, people don’t just break up- they break up and it literally kills you’

– Nick Clegg: People who pay a low rate of text are, ‘literally on a different galaxy’


Celebrities and politicians alike have long been falling foul of the word’s double meaning. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg suggested that those who pay low rates of tax are “literally on a different galaxy”.

Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp has been criticised as being one of the worst offenders.

Jamie Redknapp literally doesn't know what he's saying sometimes...

Jamie Redknapp literally doesn’t know what he’s saying sometimes…

When taken quite literally his match commentaries read more like surrealist description of the apocalypse, with suggestions of on pitch action such as, “he’s literally turned him inside out”, “he’s literally sold the defender a dummy”, “his head is literally on a chopping block” or “that cross to Rooney was literally on a plate”.

Meanwhile conservative US politician Jerry Falwell brought an unprecedented amount of drama to the country’s gay marriage debate.

He recently alleged, “if you and I do not speak up now, this homosexual steamroller will literally crush all decent men, women and children who get in its way”.

Horobin literally doesn't know 'literally' anymore

Horobin literally thinks ‘literally’ will become the new ‘really’. Really. Literally.

Professor Simon Horobin who teaches the history of the English language at Oxford University explained to the Tab, “It’s not such an unusual development since the word has been used metaphorically for centuries.

“A similar development affected ‘really’, which originally meant ‘in reality’, but which developed into an intensifier meaning ‘very, thoroughly’.

“When we hear people say ‘My mouth was really burning’ we don’t immediately respond with: ‘Was it really? What, actually on fire?’ So why should we do so with literally?”

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