I’m literally making things up.
Every once in a while, I fixate on word usage and hatch wild theories about why a certain word or phrase becomes trendy in conversation. We’re all aware, I presume, of the privileged place “literally” has achieved in our lexicon. It is used most often, it seems, to denote emphasis. I’m not the only one interested in its abuse/overuse. But, like a 70-year-old tweed-clad professor with a pipe and a penchant for pretty coeds, I’m curious about what its popularity might suggest about “the times.” Maybe we are entrenched in an Age of Hyperbole, where everything must be biggened and baddened in order to be heard or believed (see Fox News, etc.). Maybe “literally” signifies some kernel of steadfast truth amidst all of that shouting, a counterpoint to the sensationalism. Or perhaps “literally” is a response to the Age of Irony for the same reasons, where we intend it to denote sincerity. Since my guess is that we’re in the twilight of that age, and are now seeing the quick waning of its companion age, Post-Irony, my hope is that we’ll hear a lot less “literally” and a lot more good, dramatic pause.