The use of the word "literal"

I have a friend who is writing something about his company for their brochure. He says, “we have done work for blah blah blah blah blah blah blah - literally from Boston to San Diego”

What does the “literally” part mean to you all?

Obviously, it’s the opposite of working figuratively from Boston to San Diego.

You know. Haven’t you heard people say, “Oh sweethart, I’d walk from Boston to San Diego for you?” They certainly don’t mean it. Not literally. :wink:

More seriously, I think the word “literally” is out of place here. In fact, the whole sentence needs rewriting — especially with all those “blahs”, which only weaken your message. Tighten it up a bit.

For the record though, I am not a copy editor.

The only situation that I would use it in is if they happen to be a construction company, and have built a highway all the way between the two cities in question.

Or maybe a trucking company.

You could pretty much just take out “literally” and it would make more sense. You only use literally when whatever you say could be taken figuratively.

“…from Boston to San Diego” is specific enough that the “literally” is superfluous. If the phrase had been “from coast to coast,” then “literally” would sharpen its meaning.

Thanks so far!

Thanks again.

It’s really just hyperbole creep. People think of “literally” as a strengthening adverb (like “very”) and misuse it when they don’t feel their word choice was strong enough. Likewise, the misuse of “physically”, especially by IT people who talk about “physically clicking on X” or “physically move the file to the server”. So, what, I have to print it, walk the file down to the server room, and place it on top of the server box? What if the server is in San Diego? I would literally have to go from coast to coast!

I would agree with Gary T that the use of the term “literally” in this context is superflous. It makes sense to use it where you want to state that a metaphor or commonly used hyperbole is, in this case, actually true. Since “from Boston to San Diego” is not a commonly used metaphor or hyperbole, nothing is gained by adding “literally.”

As a slight hijack, one of my pet peeves is when people use “literally” in a non-literal way, as a way of adding emphasis. For example, when describing a state of happiness, I’ve seen people say that they are “literally walking on air.” No, they are figuratively walking on air; if they were “literally” walking on air, their feet would be off the ground.


Godzilla, I use the word in those contexts ironically.

My head hurts :slight_smile:

Is this the new catch-all excuse for bad English? (cf. "I could care less. ")

It literally bugs me, too.

Seriously, I start growing antennae and everything.