Brand & Martinez for September 7, 2012

Did Joe Biden literally misuse the word 'literally' in DNC speech?

Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

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Democratic vice presidential candidate, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate.

The Democratic National Convention literally ended last night.

During his 40-minute speech at the Democratic National Convention last night, Vice President Joe Biden used the word "literally" nine times, according to the website Politico. Using the word "literally," rather than the word "figuratively," bugs many grammar watchdogs.

"Joe Biden, he must have gone off script because I can't imagine a speech writer putting 'literally' in there that many times," said Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty. "If you think about it, we love to put adverbs in front of phrases that we want to emphasize. If it's not 'literally,' it's teenagers saying 'totally,' or maybe more staid people saying 'really,' we like to throw in extra words to add emphasis."

But Fogarty says Joe Biden used the word correctly most of the time.

"When he said GM and Chrysler were 'literally on the verge of liquidation,' if you think that's true, then it literally is true and literally is the right word," said Fogarty. "When he said 'The American people are literally on the brink of a new Depression,' that's one of the more troublesome uses."

Even Hollywood is using our misuse of 'literally' to comic effect. Rob Lowe's character on "Parks and Recreation" loves the word "literally," though he often uses it incorrectly.

Since the word is used incorrectly so many times in American culture, should we learn to accept this new usage? Fogarty says some linguists think so.

'Experts argue about it…If you start looking through the dictionaries and the usage guides, people were using literally this way back in the 1800s and the Oxford English Dictionary says its now the most common use of the word," said Fogarty. "The people who study language would argue that its not incorrect that its just the way language is evolving."

Guest:
Mignon Fogarty writes the Grammar Girl blog and she's the author of "101 troublesome words you'll master in no time."

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