1) Suppose there is a very stupid person. Is it correct to tell that he/she is 'literally nuts'?

2) What about using it if the person is mentally ill?

This came up in an informal talk with my friend. I understand that 'nuts' is informal/slang. Thanks

  • The slang term 'nuts' is most frequently, in my experience, used to mean something akin to 'crazy' or 'unhinged'. I would try to avoid using 'literally' unless your friend is actually a pile of walnuts as opposed to merely unpredictable. Nov 19, 2014 at 4:46
  • What if, literally, a "nut bolts, screws washer"?
    – BBking
    Nov 19, 2014 at 4:51
  • According to which rules with you define "correct"??? Nov 19, 2014 at 5:10
  • @curiousdannii You don't even understand that? Then tell me all those rules that you have with which you define 'correct'. I shall choose the one with which I defined 'correct'!
    – dpaks
    Nov 19, 2014 at 5:37
  • 1
    @code_dweller - There is no language academy that sets standards for English, so deciding what is "correct" is a matter of tradition, general opinion, and common usage, which can vary by place, social status, historical era, and many other factors. Please try to be more courteous when you are asking others for help; we don't do this for a living and no one here is obligated to help you.
    – phenry
    Nov 20, 2014 at 0:10

3 Answers 3


Literally is a commonly used intensifier in modern English. Obstinate prescriptivist pedants who disagree can be found in no small number, but they are, for the most part, merely cranky grammar cultists who would prefer the language stagnate and calcify. They are best ignored.

Nuts is commonly used as a synonym for 'crazy', however it is generally used in a colloquial sense - use of the term for people who are clinically mentally ill fell out of fashion several decades ago. It does not under any circumstance mean stupid, however.

Thus, 'literally nuts' is a correct usage if you mean to say, 'very crazy'.

Doing so to refer to a person who is actually mentally ill, would generally be considered rude or offensive however.

  • 1
    "Valid intensifier"? What makes an intensifier valid or invalid? If you are not a prescriptionist then presumably you can say only that lots of people use it, not that it is "valid". That's not a usual meaning of the term "valid". Try "popular" or "common".
    – Drew
    Nov 19, 2014 at 4:43
  • 1
    What makes any word valid? Common usage.
    – Fattie
    Nov 19, 2014 at 15:57
  1. "Nuts" is slang or colloquial for crazy, not stupid.

  2. "Literally" something does not mean "figuratively" something, so the answer is "no".

  3. However, many people have taken up the habit/custom of using "literally" to mean "very" or "figuratively". So in that sense the answer is "yes".

Take your pick.

  • Care to explain the downvote?
    – Drew
    Nov 19, 2014 at 4:40
  • What if the person is really crazy? Can I then use 'literally nuts'? PS: It's not me who downvoted.
    – dpaks
    Nov 19, 2014 at 4:54
  • @code_dweller: Good question. I would say no, because nuts is not used here to literally mean nuts (as in walnuts). This meaning of nuts is itself essentially figurative (a metaphor: as if the person's brain were a pile of nuts). But that's just my opinion. It's like the expression He's lost his marbles. Even if crazy or demented, he didn't literally lose any marbles. The figure is of someone who has marbles in his head, instead of a healthy brain.
    – Drew
    Nov 19, 2014 at 4:56
  • You say that ' nuts is not used here to literally mean nuts (as in walnuts)'. But why do you not consider the other meanings of nuts as well? Like crazy, insane, eccentric etc.
    – dpaks
    Nov 19, 2014 at 5:42
  • @code_dweller: I tried to explain it in my last comment. Those meanings come from a figurative application of the nuts-as-in-walnuts meaning. That's my explanation, for what it's worth. Another way to put this might be that there are degrees of literalness. And that is related to the fact that usage changes. Sometimes an originally figurative meaning later takes over to become the most common meaning, so becomes a (or even the) "literal" meaning. Let me add that I'm no expert on this, and no linguist. ...
    – Drew
    Nov 19, 2014 at 14:14

It depends if you are the type of person who welcomes the evolution of language or not.

Personally I like the word "literally" to mean... literally. So, I would argue that "No" it is not okay to call someone "literally Nuts" unless the person in question is actually made out of peanut

  • But the dictionary gives 'nuts' other meanings too i.e., crazy and insane. So the person need not be made of walnuts right in order to be called as literally nuts?
    – dpaks
    Nov 19, 2014 at 5:40

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