Communication Skills

JS Tip 208: From the Writing Workshops: Using Literally Literally

The CBS color commentary on last Sunday’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament:

“This man has literally carried his team through the tournament.”

No.

No, no, no, no, no.

At no time in the tournament did this man carry four other men in his arms. Lift them off the ground. Move them forward.

What are we talking about? Eight hundred pounds of basketball players? Four times two hundred?  

Literally means actually. Really. Truly.

And he didn’t actually carry his team. He may have figuratively carried his team—helped them, encouraged them, led them through difficult times—but he didn’t literally carry the team.

Misuse is nothing new. The American Heritage Dictionary cites a 1926 example: “The 300,000 Unionists . . . will be literally thrown to the wolves.” Ouch.   

Our suggestion: Don’t use the word. It’s overused. It’s lost its meaning. It lends little to your writing.    

If you have questions, suggestions, or arguments, let us know. We love this stuff.