When it comes to expressing ourselves, the world has been getting it wrong for hundreds of years… literally.
The word “literally” means “in a literal way or sense” but, to the fury of language purists, many people now use it simply to stress a point.
This underscores the differences between written and spoken language. Each means of communication has different goals, objectives, and means of operations. Speakers care about sound and speed much more than writers. For this reason, shifting from ‘a’ to ‘an’ makes sense as does creating contractions like ‘don’t’ which is much quicker and easier to say than ‘do not.’
Moving back and forth between speaking and writing often causes confusion. It gives rise to misusing words. If enough people misuse a word in the same way, it becomes common enough to create a tipping point.
This happened recently when the Oxford English Dictionary altered its definition of ‘literally’ to say it can be “used for emphasis rather than being actually true, such as, ‘We were literally killing ourselves laughing’.”
Senior OED editor Fiona McPherson said: “Our job is to describe the language people are using.” This statement marks her, and the OED as grammar descriptivists. For an overview of the term – see my previous post “understanding grammar”
So which other words have we got wrong for so long they are now right?
The UK’s Daily Mirror explores a few of the words that have continued to evolve with speech.