It's everywhere. It is a word that we all use, but all too often, it's used incorrectly.
Dictionary.com defines 'literal' as "in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical." Synonyms include truthful, exact, reliable.
Well friends, we have a a pandemic on our hands. I'm not talking about swine flu, I'm talking about abuse of literally. It's a pandemic because it reaches across every sport. But I've had enough.
Prior to game five of a first-round playoff series against the Penguins this year, the Flyers pre-game radio hosts informed the audience that their backs were "literally up against the wall." It was easy to see the rest of the room, I'm sure. Another of the hosts told us that the game was "literally do or die." That's right folks, win tonight, or public gallows at City Hall tomorrow morning.
It's not just commentators. Following Villanova's Sweet Sixteen win over Duke in the 2009 NCAA Basketball Tournament, an excited member of Nova Nation called into sports talk radio station 610 WIP and declared that for the second straight game, the Villanova defense "literally swallowed the other team and spit 'em back out on the floor." College basketball also features the most egregious abuser of literally, Mr. Len Elmore. Elmore once described a player's leaping ability by saying that he can "literally jump out of the building." Other commentators have used that phrase's cousin in saying that a certain player "can literally fly."
However, Elmore's masterstroke came late in a game about two seasons ago on a national telecast on one of the ESPN networks. With team X trailing by five-ish points, Elmore demanded more of that team's star player, claiming he had been "literally invisible" for the entire game.
Ahh, but the noble game of baseball is not immune. I can't even count how many times over the past few years I've heard a pitcher such as Billy Wagner or Justin Verlander described as "literally throwing gas." At least that one is possible. My other favorite is when an analyst tells me that (Ryan Howard/Albert Pujols/Manny Ramirez/A-Rod/pick your slugger) "is the type of guy that can literally carry an entire ballclub on his back." I'd like to see that.
The examples are all over the place if you pay attention to what people are saying. And this horrific misuse of language needs to stop now, or I may just throw myself on the ground and start throwing a hissyfit.