Literally is like literally used too much. It is a common staple in the modern English-speaking world. We insert it in unnecessary places at an alarming rate. As I noticed this in myself, I tried to pull back from it, because I found the more, I used it the less meaning it had. This is true of any over used word such as “love” and “hate.”
Language has meaning despite what some may say, and that meaning gives it importance. The over usage of the word “literally” may be relatively benign and simply how our speech has evolved. That said, it is a great example of how a word we use constantly can lose all sense of meaning or precision. For example, it isn’t necessary to say something like “I literally couldn’t take it anymore and lost my temper.” Obviously, you literally couldn’t take it anymore, that was implied when you got upset.
As stated in the first paragraph, we do this with many words, especially “love.” Love’s meaning has become so watered down it is typically associated with nothing more than an emotional connection to something or someone. Of course, this is far more important than watering down the word “literally” but the point remains, we must take care in our language.
Recently the word “racist” is another one that has become overused. Of course, racist people exist. There is no denying that awful fact. However, it is commonplace now to label folks of a different political persuasion as racist. The over usage of words to describe bigots (i.e. racist, sexist, homophobic) have watered them down to the point where they mean nothing. These are very real examples of bigotry, but we cannot throw these words around simply because we don’t like another person, they must actually fit the criteria of that particular type of bigotry.
Now this may come across as if I’m catastrophizing overusing words. That isn’t my intent, just a gentle reminder you the reader and myself that words have meaning. When we use a word too much, especially improperly and in unnecessary ways, they begin to lose their meaning and impact. How many times have we said we “hated” someone? To hate a person means to wish their destruction and nothing but the worst possible outcome for them. Is that what we really want? For most people the answer is no, yet to someone hearing you say that they may not know. This is just something for us all to think about.