But it is of no use to complain that literally properly means “actually; without exaggeration,” the exact opposite of figuratively. That battle is almost lost; popular usage has nearly won, so that literally may also be used to mean “in effect; very nearly; virtually.” In fact, this meaning is now quite common, with literally being used to intensify a metaphorical expression, as in “He literally died when he found out the truth.”
Another usage battle was lost well over two thousand years ago, when Cicero, the Roman Republic’s greatest orator and man of letters, in his dialogue Brutus, yielded his own older “correct” pronunciation of certain words to the more recent popular “incorrect” usage, changing his own pulcer “beautiful” to pulcher, triumpus “triumph” to triumphus, and Cartāgo “Carthage” to Carthāgo. (Notice that it is the “vulgar” spellings that are current in English pulchritude, triumph, and Carthage ). In each of the spelling changes, “c” to “ch,” “p” to “ph,” and “t” to “th,” the “h” represents aspiration of the consonant (voiceless stops in these cases). Aspirated voiceless stops were a feature of the pronunciation of the uneducated populace who aspired to but overshot the pronunciation of educated speakers.
Examples from the Web for literally
He was then literally slapped around by the high priest, who pulled on his ears in an effort to produce tears.
“He literally went underground to hold services,” Moscow-based dissident and journalist Victor Davidoff said in an email.Remembering the Russian Priest Who Fought the Orthodox Church|Cathy Young|December 28, 2014|DAILY BEAST
But once Kanye came along, Kim had to literally clean out her closet.Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s Balmain Campaign: High Fashion Meets Low Culture|Amy Zimmerman|December 23, 2014|DAILY BEAST
According to a police source, that fax came in at 2:46 p.m.—literally a after before the fatal bullets flew.Alleged Cop Killer Ismaaiyl Brinsley Had a Death Wish|M.L. Nestel|December 22, 2014|DAILY BEAST
In a dramatic twist on mistletoe reproduction, their seeds explode, literally.
Little did any of them guess how literally Maud would take Lois' words.Polly's Senior Year at Boarding School|Dorothy Whitehill
Mark Twain wanted to point out the absurdity of taking the allegories and the figurative language of the Bible literally.Mark Twain|Archibald Henderson
As another example, he gave directions for preparing essence of hartshorn—prepared, literally, from the horn itself.Medical Investigation in Seventeenth Century England|Charles W. Bodemer
She shrank from his touch, literally into the arms upon which Philadelphus rested his weight.The City of Delight|Elizabeth Miller
Mr. Bradley, meeting them half way, literally had to drag them back.Billie Bradley at Three Towers Hall|Janet D. Wheeler
British Dictionary definitions for literally
Word Origin and History for literally
1530s, "in a literal sense," from literal + -ly (2). Erroneously used in reference to metaphors, hyperbole, etc., even by writers like Dryden and Pope, to indicate "what follows must be taken in the strongest admissible sense" (1680s), which is opposite to the word's real meaning and a long step down the path to the modern misuse of it.
We have come to such a pass with this emphasizer that where the truth would require us to insert with a strong expression 'not literally, of course, but in a manner of speaking', we do not hesitate to insert the very word we ought to be at pains to repudiate; ... such false coin makes honest traffic in words impossible. [Fowler, 1924]