Life, Word Watch

Literally no-one understands the word ‘literally’ anymore. I suspect that the meaning of the word has changed over the last generation or two. ‘Literally’ came into English from Old French (so blame William the Conqueror). It came from a French word meaning ‘letter’. So when it was first recorded (which was around 1475), it meant ‘to the letter’ or ‘by the letter’. In other words, ‘literally’ began with the meaning that the words were an exact representation of what they said. But that is no longer the case.