After years of misuse the Oxford English Dictionary gives in and changes word’s meaning
By Anna Edwards
It’s enough to make Oxford English Dictionary readers want to throw their book out of the window… literally.
A senior editor of the respected dictionary has confirmed that the wrong explanation of a word had been used to describe the word ‘literally’.
Fiona McPherson said the new sense was included in the dictionary in September 2011.
Ms McPherson said: ‘Our job is to describe the language people are using’ the Daily Telegraph reported.
‘The only reason this sense is included is because people are using it the wrong way.’
The dictionary says that literally means ‘in a literal way or sense’ but has added an additional meaning, the Daily Telegraph reported.
But it also states that when used informally it can be ‘used for emphasis rather than being actually true.
‘In recent years an extended use of literally (and also literal) has become very common, where literally (or literal) is used deliberately in non-literal contexts, for added effect, as in they bought the car and literally ran it into the ground.
At least, when explaining how people incorrectly use it, the dictionary still seems to slightly scold the person delivering the wrong word.
It says: ‘This use can lead to unintentional humorous effects (we were literally killing ourselves laughing) and is not acceptable in formal contexts, though it is widespread.’
‘My impression is that many people don’t have any idea of what “literally” means — or used to mean,’ Boston University psycholinguist Jean Berko Gleason told the Boston Globe, The Week reported in March.
But the OED prides itself on constantly looking out for new ways words can be interpreted.
In June the leading authority on the English language confirmed that the definition of the word ‘marriage’ will be changed now a law allowing same-sex couples to get married has been passed.
Language expertssaid the definition did not change overnight but they will monitor how the word marriage changes over the next year.
An Oxford University Press spokeswoman said: ‘We continually monitor the words in our dictionaries, paying particular to those words whose usage is shifting, so yes, this will happen with marriage.’
As it stands, OxfordDictionaries.com defines marriage as being a ‘formal union of a man and a woman, typically as recognised by law, by which they become husband and wife.’
In a reference, it says marriage could also be ‘(in some jurisdictions) a union between partners of the same sex’.