Best to break my hiatus gently.
StumbleUpon, the best thing to happen to random internet use since AIM, delivered me to a blog entirely devoted to attacking figurative uses of the word ‘literally.’ I am literally furious. I can understand the sentiment that the figurative use is becoming so prevalent that it is simultaneously losing its force and obfuscating the original meaning of the term. What annoys me is that a large portion of the people commenting on this website seem to think that it’s plain wrong to say “I literally want to kill him” when you do not in fact intend to commit homicide.
The ironic thing about this is that the function of the word ‘literally’ is to distinguish between literal and figurative uses of a word, yet its defenders are telling us that the figurative use is wrong. So if we applied their advice across the board, we wouldn’t even have the word in the first place.
Although it doesn’t precisely match the definition, the usage in question is essentially nothing other than hyperbole, a well established rhetorical device. A word of advice, children: when your view has the consequence that Catullus doesn’t know how to use language, you might want to jump ship.
An article linked to from said blog indicates that I occupy an odd position by both defending the figurative use and deploring its superabundance.