By Jaimy Ford
I enjoy NBC’s show Parks and Recreation. It’s a funny, light-hearted, feel good program. Some of the most chuckle-inducing moments, for me anyway, are the overuse and misuse of the word literally by character Chris Traeger. You can see a sneak peak here:
While Traeger’s usage is extreme, the word is often misused in spoken and written communication—and overlooked by even astute editors. Statements like “She was literally bubbling over with excitement” or “He literally ran circles around the other sales reps” are common in today’s vernacular. I’d be lying if I claimed to have never used the word myself (“This cold is literally killing me!”) In all those cases, literally is being used in a figurative, or metaphorical and not literal, statement.
While I can find humor in the misuse of the word, I do think it is important to understand how to use it correctly.
Literally means “actually in the strictest sense without exaggeration or inaccuracy.” If the subject matter of your statement doesn’t meet that criterion, don’t use the word. It’s as simple as that. To reference an example from above, the use of literally would only be acceptable if a top sales rep physically got up and ran actual circles around his fellow sales reps.
In most cases, you can omit the word altogether and that immediately will tighten and clarify your message.
What common—but often misused—words or phrases bother you?