Literally wrong

Just as genes and viruses change, so do words and word meanings. There are some words that will always stay the same, such as “you” or “I.”  According to Roger Highfield, director of external affairs at the Science Museum Group in London, “these words along with “give,” “water,” and “hand” are likely to persist, [but] there is a 50 percent chance that the word for ‘dirty’ will be different by the year 2750.

The dictionary of changing words. Graphic by Kate McHugh.
The dictionary of changing words. Graphic by Kate McHugh.

The word “literally” started out in the 1530s. As defined by Merriam-Webster, “literally” now means one of two definitions. One being “in a literal sense or manner,” and two being “in effect.” After looking at a different source, I found that Merriam-Webster has let the word’s definition morph from its original definition. Online Etymology Dictionary defines “literally” as “in a literal sense, and declares its use in reference to metaphors, hyperbole, etc. as erroneous.

While some “grammar police” may disagree, language is constantly evolving and changing and this is necessary as society progresses into the future. Websites such as “” have given way to people being able to take one meaning of a word and change it into something different.

The evolution of language is good for many different reasons. Humans are highly developed animals. We have learned a lot from adaptations, including the changes to our language (both in written and spoken form). For example, if you have ever tried to read a piece by Shakespeare, then you can easily tell how writing has transformed. We no longer use “shalln’t” in our everyday writing. Instead, we use shall not. Language is essential to our social life, and by adapting our word choice to our needs is important for our ability to grow.

There are many words that have changed their meanings over the ages.  The word “awful” used to mean “full of awe,” however today it has evolved to mean exactly the opposite. Words also change as we adapt to new technologies. If you hear someone talk about finding information on “the net,” chances are you’ll understand that they’re referring to the Internet, not a physical net.

I literally think that we should literally start accepting the new word developments that we have made through the ages. Words are meant to be fun and meant to be used in a creative way. In the words of Rudyard Kipling, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”