If you’re a coolheaded, fair-minded individual, it doesn’t bother you that people often use the word “literally” when describing things figuratively.
If, on the other hand, you’re a language bully, it figuratively bugs the heck out of you every time. You grammarists are waging a losing battle. Even dictionaries now recognize the use of “literally” as an intensifier for statements that are not literally true.
There is a remedy for this galling inversion of the term’s original meaning. It’s an extension for Google’s Chrome Web browser that replaces the word “literally” with “figuratively” on sites and articles across the Internet, with deeply gratifying results.
It doesn’t work in every instance — tweets are immune to the extension’s magic, as are illustrations. But it works widely enough to put you in stitches when you see the results.
For instance, a quick Google News search for “literally” turns up the following headlines, modified by the browser extension to a state of unintentional accuracy: “The 2014 MTV Movie Awards Were Figuratively on Fire.” And “10 Things You Figuratively Do Not Have Time For.”
Be warned, though: The widget (bit.ly/1pkhMgw) does not distinguish between the literal and figurative uses of “literally.” So if you install it, you’ll also start seeing the word “figuratively” to describe things that are literally true, as in, “White Sox Rookie Abreu Figuratively Destroys a Baseball.” (The baseball was, in fact, destroyed.)
But that’s no worse than the current state of affairs. Plenty of keyboard pushers think there’s nothing wrong with using “literally” to mean “figuratively.” Anything can mean anything, literally. Or should that be figuratively? □