Language nitpickers, unite.
A new Google Chrome extension can now replace almost every instance of the word “literally” with the word "figuratively" on websites. (Some instances, like the word appearing in tweets, will not be taken out.)
English-language sticklers have long been peeved by the technically incorrect use of the word “literally,” as in the sentence “I am literally dying of thirst right now.” Those sticklers would point out that you mean “figuratively,” not “literally,” as chances are you merely want a cool beverage and are not actually in any medical danger.
Of course, the fact that the Google Chrome extension replaces almost every use of the word “literally” with “figuratively” means that correct uses of “literally” will be taken out as well.
As pointed out by NPR, those who bemoan the incorrect use of “literally” are losing ground: even the venerable Oxford English Dictionary added the definition “used for emphasis rather than being actually true” to its entry for “literally” in 2011.
The incorrect use of the word is nothing new, however. The Telegraph writer Steve Hawkes cites writer Frances Brooke as the earliest person to make the slip. In 1769, Brooke wrote, “He is a fortunate man to be introduced to such a party of fine women at his arrival; it is literally to feed among the lilies.”
Meanwhile, author Mark Twain wrote in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” that his hero was “literally rolling in wealth.”