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Literally Awesome Hyperbole: The Naughty Grammarian Explains

Updated on October 19, 2016

Literally?

This picture represents the literal use of the word "literally."
This picture represents the literal use of the word "literally." | Source

Literally? Really?

Miss Grammers wants you to know that she is literally dying to write this essay about word usage.

Miss Grammars must now rap her own knuckles with a ruler. Miss Grammers is not literally dying. Miss Grammers is alive and well and is no more dying than we are all dying in the literal sense that that each second brings us closer to our death. Now Miss Grammers must rap her knuckles again for introducing that morbid thought into your day.

Miss Grammers only mentioned it because she is sick to death of people using the word “literally” to mean exactly the opposite of what it actually means. “Literally means “in actual fact;” but the word has come to be used as an intensifier.

An intensifier adds no meaning, but is used to convey strength of emotion. “I’m really dying to …” or “I am totally dying to...” or “I am absolutely dying to …” Miss Grammers considers these examples to be trite and advises you to use them sparingly.

Sometimes, a certain four-letter word is used as an intensifier as in “I am f@@king dying to …” Miss Grammers considers this to be vulgar and recommends that you do not use it. At least. not in polite company.

Don't Misuse "Literally"

Do not misuse or overuse the word "literally."
Do not misuse or overuse the word "literally." | Source

Using” literally” as an intensifier should be avoided because unlike words like “totally”, "absolutely,” and “really”, “literally” has another meaning. If Miss Grammers is literally dead on her feet, has she been buried standing up? It’s confusing, isn’t it?

Miss Grammers should have said, “I am figuratively dying” although that seems an awkward turn of phrase. How about we agree to say, “Miss Grammers is very eager to …” and call it a day.

Sick to Death

Miss Grammers is not literally "sick to death."
Miss Grammers is not literally "sick to death." | Source

Hyperbole

When Miss Grammers said “sick to death,” did she mean that she was literally nearly dead from an illness? No. Miss Grammers is in fine health.

The phrase “sick to death” is hyperbole. It is the use of obvious exaggeration as a rhetorical device, and it is not meant to be taken literally.

Miss Grammers apologizes once again for the death metaphors. She appears to be in the thrall of thanatomania today (an obsession with death or dying; the belief that one is fated to die because one has been cursed or bewitched by an enemy).

Awesome

Awesome is an adjective that is frequently used as an intensifier and hyperbole rolled into one. The word was initially used to describe something that inspired a sense of reverence mixed with fear or wonder. For example: The star-filled sky on a clear moonless night is an awesome sight.

However, in common usage, “awesome” is used to describe anything that is merely admired or considered to be outstanding or an example of excellence. For example: “Miss Grammers wrote an awesome essay.” (The word "excellent" will suffice, thank you.)

If you must use “awesome” when you mean “excellent,” try to use it in an ironic way, so your audience is sure that you mean it as hyperbole.

Use “awesome” sparingly unless you literally want to sound like an overwrought teenaged girl gushing about the trivia of her life or a teenaged boy desperately trying to give the impression that he is cool.

"Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh most likely found the starry night sky an awesome sight.
Van Gogh most likely found the starry night sky an awesome sight. | Source

Love’s True Desire

Miss Grammers is absolutely thrilled to move from the subject of death to the subject of love.

Here are a few examples for today’s lessons from Miss Grammers’ (imaginary) novel, Love’s True Desire.

“Melanie literally swooned when Doug kissed her.”

Did Doug call 911 or did he happen to have some smelling salts handy? In any event, it most likely totally ruined the mood.

“Melanie felt like she would die if Doug did not kiss her right that very second.”

Melanie is the type of young woman given to hyperbole, but at least there was no threat that she would actually expire before Doug’s eyes. (Note the use of the intensifier phrase “right that very” to modify “second.”)

“When Doug kissed her, pressing his body against hers, Melanie knew that Brad was truly awesome in every way.”

Melanie is smitten with Doug, but is she so smitten that he is like a god to her? Perhaps it is only hyperbole especially since the intensifier “truly” is used.

Miss Grammers

Miss Grammers is not afraid to take a walk on the wild side.
Miss Grammers is not afraid to take a walk on the wild side. | Source

Who is Miss Grammers?

Miss Grammers is a lady who wants everyone to mind their manners when they speak or write the English language. She believes clear communication is important, and the correct use of words, grammar, and punctuation is the best way to communicate clearly.

Miss Grammers does not wish to be a scold, but she must admonish you on this: Mind Miss Grammers--It’s for your own good.

Miss Grammers likes to observe the niceties of polite society, but she is not above “taking a walk on the wild side.”

What is your opinion of Miss Grammers?

Was Miss Grammers naughty or nice today?

See results

A quiz for you straight from "Love's True Desire"


view quiz statistics

© 2014 Catherine Giordano

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    • Stacie L profile image

      Stacie L 2 years ago

      Yes I agree with some of the hyperboles used all too frequently in our society. I really hate to hear the word "awesome"..

      Sick to Death is a prime example. ;-)

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm always glad to hear that someone agrees with me.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 years ago

      This is one word that is overused and does need a refresher in usage. I love your examples and the quiz.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you so much. teaches12345. I especially appreciate it wen u like my grammar articles because u are a teacher. I've noticed that there are a lot of hubbers who might be English-as-a-second-language folks. they might particularly benefit from my "lessons."

    • Tusitala Tom profile image

      Tom Ware 2 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Miss Grammars needs to be cloned a few hundred thousand times so she can take her message to the millions who no longer appear to heed her commonsense advice. She is so right. I wrote a sixty-thousand word novel in which the word "awe' appeared once. Now it's awesome to eat a Big Mac. And as far as the word 'great' being used to describe just about everything...well...that really does grate.

      Keep it up Miss Grammars.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks so much for you comment. You made me laugh with your grating, I mean grateful, comments. Be on the lookout for more Miss Grammers in the next week or so. Have you read the other articles in this series?

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 2 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Awesome! Ha!! I gave you all the votes above, including awesome. :-) I must admit that I overuse "awesome." I call myself a grammar geek. I've always loved grammar and writing, so I became a college English teacher. The misuse of "literally" literally drives me crazy! LOL! I loved this hub! I must look for more from Miss Grammars. Sharing this one!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you Victoria. It is high praise indeed coming from a college English teacher. I hereby appoint you my watchdog. Make sure "The Naughty Grammarian" does not make any mistakes. I spend hours researching each of these grammar hubs.

    • mdscoggins profile image

      Michelle Scoggins 2 years ago from Fresno, CA

      Great read Catherine - interesting as always. Mrs. Grammers was on a role today. I love your grammatically correct humor it is entertaining. Though, hyperbole's can be overused it seems like our world is moving at a pace that is fast and does not stop unless something is really over-the-top. So it seems like though overused hyperboles bring back some spark when we tend to be desensitized. Have a great night :)

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you for your comment mds. That's just how Miss Grammers rolls--full spreed ahead, over-the-top, and always literally awesome.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you for your comment mds. That's just how Miss Grammers rolls--full spreed ahead, over-the-top, and always literally awesome.

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 2 years ago from New York City

      I appreciate your efforts to clear up the language. Literally. For me, the most annoying word misuse is saying "anxious" when the speaker means "eager." There is such a huge difference between something that gives you anxiety and something that makes you feel positively excited in anticipation, I can't imagine how that mess actually developed. With your first example, I think people get confused about what "literally" means because literature can be figurative or literal. But anxious and eager - I don't get that one at all.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Maybe I'll address anxious and eager in another hub. As for "iterally," on the HBO show "The Newsroom" tonight one of the characters said that a dictionary accepted the alternate (incorrect) meaning of literally. (So "literally" now means "not literally" ) I have to consider if I will rewrite the hub or simply refuse to recognize a dictionary that changes the meaning of words to the exact opposite meanings.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      I was just writing something elsewhere and this thought came to me. Words like "awesome" should be used like a condiment. A sprinkle of salt adds to the taste of your food, but if you empty the whole salt shaker onto your food, it is uneatable.

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