Grammarians are up in arms over Google's recent decision to update its definition of the word "literally" in the online search giant's dictionary. Rather than maintaining a literal definition of the word, dictionaries like Google, Merriam-Webster, and Cambridge have included the following definition:
"Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling."
Many people are guilty of using "literally" to mean something figurative. The incorrect usage of the term is a favorite of Vice President Joe Biden. Here's a brief compilation of Uncle Joe using the term in various speeches:
For its part, Dictionary.com has refused to cave to people like the vice president. Rather than change its definition, it has left a usage note on its page. The note ends with, "Nevertheless, it appears in all but the most carefully edited writing."
Urban Dictionary, usually not the most trusted name in word definitions, also spends a lot of time criticizing the usage of the word "literally" in society today.
National Geographic has taken the time to spoil everyone's fun by pointing out that people have been using the term incorrectly for centuries, so this is nothing new. Even Shakespeare used it in a non-literal sense! Language is constantly changing, and dictionaries are meant to reflect how English is both intended to be spoken and how it is actually spoken.
Still, I'm sure we can all agree that Joe Biden literally needs to slow down with his usage of the word, right?