Like “incredible,” “literally” has been so overused as a sort of vague intensifier that it is in danger of losing its literal meaning. It should be used to distinguish between a figurative and a literal meaning of a phrase. It should not be used as a synonym for “actually” or “really.” Don’t say of someone that he “literally blew up” unless he swallowed a stick of dynamite.
That observation brings us to Governor Rick Perry and his book Fed Up. If you read it literally, you find that it makes some extraordinary claims:
- "Keep in mind that since 2007, federal spending has literally exploded by about $1 trillion..." Watch out: those government checks are full of bombs. Call for the guy from The Hurt Locker!
- "Unfortunately, we are engaged in a fight to once again live in that country—and its future literally hangs in the balance." That must be one heck of a produce scale.
- "The amount of government spending occurring today is staggering, and we are seeing literally only the tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg looming on the horizon. " If you can see it from Texas, that iceberg must be in the Gulf of Mexico. So much for global warming.
- "This is not hyperbole, for our ability as Americans to have access to the best health care in the world—and our right to make our own personal health care decisions—literally hangs in the balance..." Boy, they're sure loading stuff onto that gigantic produce scale. No hyperbole there.