Taking it too literally?

Use and abuse of the word ‘literally’

BBC correspondent David Willey reported on the Today programme this morning that the Pope had met a group of men and women ‘whose lives have literally been destroyed’ by abuse in the Catholic Church. This took place in ‘the residence of the Papal Nuncio in Washington’ which is not, I understand, in the afterlife (‘that undiscovered country’, etc). David Willey was therefore stretching the definition of ‘destroyed’, surely, to add ‘literally’ as an intensifier? (If you’re quick, you can hear him for yourself here.)

Of course, Willey (whose measured tones give the impression that his time in Rome has included retreats with sages of the Church) is not alone in taking ‘literally’ too metaphorically, as I discovered from a link on the TEAL site. There is, as you would expect, a web log called Literally: ‘an English language grammar blog tracking abuse of the word “literally”’. Its masthead is a log (not literally, of course, just a photograph – and I can’t see whether it has a cobweb on it).