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December 11, 2003

Al Franken hones in on

Daniel Radosh

Al Franken hones in on another one of my pet peeves: "Fox was literally laughed out of court. Now usually when you say someone was literally laughed out of court, you mean they were figuratively laughed out of court. Not in this case. People came from miles around to see this historic First Amendment case and laughed throughout the hearing."

Why on earth do people say "literally" when they mean the precise opposite? It's not so bad in casual conversation, but I see it all the time in print. My mother just came across a sentence in a critically acclaimed memoir that said something like, "The words literally fell like mountain rain on the people in the room." It doesn't even make the image more powerful, which is presumably the intent. Wouldn't that simile be more striking without the word literally in there?

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