NEW YORK— The editors at Merriam-Webster have confirmed that “literally” will no longer appear in future editions of the company’s family of dictionaries, saying that the word has been so abused by Vice President Joe Biden that it must now be “extirpated from the language and smited into the black oblivion.”
“Our decision had nothing to do with politics,” says Kevin Webster, the president of Merriam-Webster and a great-grandson of the famed lexicographer Noah. “We had simply seen the word misused by Mr. Biden so often that we finally felt fed up. Disgusted, you could say. Appalled. Scandalized. Sorry…I’ve been working on our thesaurus all week.”
Biden has become quite well known in linguistic circles for his broad interpretation of the word “literally,” which, strictly speaking, means the opposite of “figuratively” or “metaphorically.” For instance, last October the vice president told a crowd at a campaign rally that “Republicans literally mix the tears of poor children into their morning mimosas.” Only a few weeks ago, Biden was picked up on a hot mic during a ceremonial dinner telling the prime minister of Japan that, “I’m not very hunrgy because I had — literally — 45 million chicken wings for lunch.”
Dictionaries often remove entries that have fallen out of use or become archaic, although this appears to be the first time that a word has been scratched out in a seeming rebuke to an individual person. “We’ve tried to hold the line on ‘enormity’ and ‘bemused,’ and the whole ‘nauseous’ versus ‘nauseated’ confusion still makes me sick to my stomach,” Webster says. “But this was a bridge too far. When the second in command of the free world is out there saying ‘literally this’ and ‘literally that,’ then what’s the point anymore? I might as well just start my car engine and close the garage door.”
Some experts have defended Biden’s usage. “Look, human speech is simply arbitrary throat vibrations,” argues Larry Blonker, chairman of the linguistics department at New York University. “Words mean whatever we want them to mean. If I look my wife deep in the eyes and sweetly whisper ‘janky spork pantaloons,’ she knows that what I’m really saying is ‘I love you.’ The sounds themselves don’t matter.”
Others, however, remain critical. “If you use the word ‘literally’ like that, you’re never going to get a job!” yells your abusive eighth-grade English teacher, who still haunts your dreams after all these years. “Stop watching so much TV and read a book once in a while, you little runt, unless you want to end up in juvie.”
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