Literally worried about language precision

Over the last few weeks, I have managed to get sensitized to the misuse of the word ‘literally’.  I mean sentences of the form

“He was literally the worst runner ever”.

It used to be that ‘literally’ meant something like ‘this is a real description, not an exaggeration for effect, even though it sounds like it might be’.  But now it seems is used in all situations from something that is real through to wild exaggeration for effect.  Given how imprecise language is to start with, I get irritated at the atrophy in meaning in words that are quite usefully non-ambiguous.  But, my children and their friends seem the worst offenders, so sadly I think it’s days as a useful phrase are all but over.

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