In 1909, Ambrose Bierce was tired of people abusing the term “literally.” In his book Write It Right, the Civil War veteran and satirist drew up an alphabetical list of linguistic sins, then put each one out of its misery with the stiletto humor that would make his Devil’s Dictionary (1911) an American classic. Of using “Literally for Figuratively” (“The stream was literally alive with fish,” and “His eloquence literally swept the audience from its feet,”) Bierce wrote, “It is bad enough to exaggerate, but to affirm the truth of the exaggeration is intolerable.” If he hadn’t literally vanished in Mexico in 1913, he might have found the present state of our language di

 

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