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If You're About to Use 'Literally,' Freeze

November 08, 2002

A longtime annoyance reached critical mass the other night when three times in that one evening I heard intelligent people on PBS declare that something actually happened when, in fact, it hadn't. One man proclaimed, "I was literally blown away" by some news. Unless that news reached him during a tornado, I'm willing to bet he maintained his balance.

A historian stated that Thomas Jefferson was "literally swept away" by a woman in Paris. Unless that charmer was wielding a broom, Jefferson stayed put. Finally, a man who had not been on a polar expedition announced that he was "literally frozen with fear."

If these people had omitted the word "literally," they would have been speaking figuratively, metaphorically. By adding that word, they are negating its meaning. Don't even get me started on "notorious" versus "famous."

Judi Birnberg

Sherman Oaks

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