So the definition of 'literally' has now officially changed to mean 'word for word' and 'figuratively/virtually', which essentially means 'not word for word'. And this has made many people very angry.
I suppose I can see why this enrages people so much.
- A word they use has changed meaning
- That word is being used to mean the opposite of what it actually means
- The dictionary has accepted both definitions now!!!11
Yeah, so I'm going to address each of these points, which are essentially: semantic shift, auto-antonyms and lexicography.
1. Semantic Shift
Once upon a time there was a little word. Now this little word got used a lot, by many people, in many contexts. The little word got used in exaggerations, in metaphors, as slang, just to name a few. Eventually, it was barely used for its original meaning at all! And so people began to forget the original meaning of the little word. Subsequently, much to everyone's surprise, the world did not end and the English language did not collapse in on itself and the Anglosphere did not resolve to neanderthal-like grunting.
Here is a very short list of words that have undergone semantic shift (Spoiler: near enough any word you look up has changed meaning over the years)
- Knight - original meaning: Boy
- Nice - original meaning: Foolish, ignorant
- (And on that note) Silly - original meaning: Happy
- Hound - original meaning: Dog. Any kind of dog
- Deer - original meaning: Any animal
- Gay - original meaning: Merry, joyful (surely we all know this one)
- Lesbian - original meaning: Of the island of Lesbos
- Broadcast - original meaning: To scatter seeds
- Guy - original meaning: Guy Fawkes. Yup
- Meat - original meaning: Any kind of food
- Pathetic - original meaning: Emotionally moving
Check out this really interesting page on the whole thing if you want more examples.
Basically, if you're going to complain about the word 'literally' not meaning just 'word for word' anymore, then go ahead and start complaining about these too. Or else you'll be a hypocrite. And nobody likes a hypocrite. Unless you're going to go by the original meaning of hypocrite, because in that case, I think we all rather like hypocrites.
Words that can also be used to mean their own antonym (i.e. opposite) are known as auto-antonyms, and they are in fact super-cool.
Sorry? What was that? You'd like another list? Oh, okay.
- Left means both 'gone' and 'remaining' (He left the room / He's the only one left)
- Off means both 'no longer operating' and 'starting to operate' (The light's off / The alarm went off)
- Either means both 'one or the other' and 'both' (You can either have it or leave it / There are trees on either side of the road)
- Fine means both 'acceptable/satisfactory' and 'above average' (Yes, I suppose this essay is fine / This is a fine specimen)
- Overlook means both 'to watch' and 'to fail to notice' (The children will be overlooked by a supervisor / I can't believe you overlooked all these spelling mistakes)
- To put out means both 'to generate/produce' and 'to extinguish' (I put out a new album last year / I'll just put out this fire)
- All over means both 'everywhere' and 'no more' (You have spaghetti sauce all over you... / I'm so sad that the summer is all over)
- Trim means both 'to add' and 'to remove' (We trimmed the Christmas tree with tinsel / the shears)
And there are many more here and here and here. They're all over (ha) the place. And quite frankly they are lots of fun. So please, let's move on.