Literally or Figuratively (or Virtually)?

Time for another installment of catachresis (using the wrong word for the context). These goofs can become a malapropism (usually unintentionally humorous misuse or distortion of a word or phrase), but we’re focusing on words used innocently.

Today’s case for the Minister to weigh in on:

  • Literally – Actually happened or fully accurate: “I literally was just there before you left.”
  • Figuratively – Metaphorically: “Figuratively, I was happy as a bug on a rug”
  • Virtually — Exaggerated emphasis not literally true or possible: “I virtually exploded from laughing so hard.”

Some additional clarity and context from Dictionary.com:

You can literally open a package as soon as it arrives, but you can only figuratively open your heart to love.

You can also only figuratively tell the whole world how you feel but, instead, you can literally tell every person whom you come in contact with about your feelings.

Feel like you’re so frustrated that you’re literally going to explode? Wrong! You may feel like you’re figuratively going to erupt, but it’s safe to say you won’t literally combust due to an emotion anytime soon.

Most common goof I hear is using literally to show intent but not necessarily actuality or accuracy: “I literally died when she turned me down for a date.”

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