The adamant insistence that ‘literally’ can have but a single meaning suggests a Platonic view of language, that words have essences, given meanings that are somehow corrupted when they alter in usage.… There are many varieties of English and many contexts and occasions for their use. If I were writing a technical or scientific paper, I wouldn’t dream of using the figurative literally. It would be out of place. It could conceivably lead to confusion. But if in conversation someone says, “I literally hit the ceiling when they sprang a story on me that wasn’t on the budget,” I understand that literally is hyperbolic, not factual.
One of my favorite quotes this week, from a post titled “English can be so two-faced,” on the Editors’ Association of Canada blog.