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This question already has an answer here:

I found many people like to use "literally" in their sentences . Is that a kind of emphasize? How can I use this word?

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, tchrist, Chenmunka, Brian Hooper, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Nov 18 '15 at 19:56

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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  • @FumbleFingers: I wish you had exercised a little more forbearance. Those answers really are not altogether helpful. Voting to reopen. – Robusto Nov 16 '15 at 21:05
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    @Robusto: Your answer hadn't actually been posted (or my display hadn't refreshed) when I closevoted. But I can't see that "existing answers are not altogether helpful" is a good reason for keeping open what looks to me like a straightforward dup. I still think your answer belongs go on (one of) the earlier questions, and that this one should be closed. (But given the speed of the reopening I assume you've got the mods on your side, so I'll leave it at that! :) – FumbleFingers Nov 16 '15 at 21:26
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    It literally means, like, "figuratively". – Hot Licks Nov 16 '15 at 22:48
  • Voting to reclose. This is certainly a duplicate (though the previous question and answers do need tidying – but in my understanding, that's the prescribed procedure in such cases). – Edwin Ashworth Nov 16 '15 at 23:43
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This is a good question, because it points up an actual problem.

While literally literally means

In a literal or strict sense

many people use literally figuratively, as an intensifier.

The American Heritage Dictionary provides this usage note:

For more than a hundred years, critics have remarked on the incoherence of using literally in a way that suggests the exact opposite of its primary sense of "in a manner that accords with the literal sense of the words." In 1926, for example, H.W. Fowler deplored the example "The 300,000 Unionists ... will be literally thrown to the wolves." The practice reflects a tendency to use certain adverbs, like completely and unbelievably, as general intensifiers, without calling to mind the primary sense of the adjective from which the adverb is made. In this regard, literally is very similar to the adverb really, whose intensive use often has nothing to do with what is "real," as in They really dropped the ball in marketing that product. · With regard to literally, the Usage Panel supports the traditional view. In our 2004 survey, only 23 percent of the Panel accepted the following sentence, in which literally undercuts the sentence's central metaphor: The situation was especially grim in England where industrialism was literally swallowing the country's youth. The Panel mustered more enthusiasm for the use of literally with a dead metaphor, which functions as a set phrase and evokes no image for most people. Some 37 percent accepted He was literally out of his mind with worry. But when there is no metaphor at all, a substantial majority of the Panel was willing to allow literally to be used as an intensifier; 66 percent accepted the sentence They had literally no help from the government on the project.

See references at TFDO.

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    Slate has a nice article on the subject here and a follow up from a couple of years ago here – Nonnal Nov 16 '15 at 21:03
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    Ah, but since it's now been entered into the dictionary, it would be fair to say that literally also now is literally an intensifier! – Araucaria Nov 17 '15 at 12:18

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