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literally, adv.

Brit. Hear pronunciation/ˈlɪt(ə)rəli/
U.S. Hear pronunciation/ˈlɪdərəli/
Hear pronunciation/ˈlɪtrəli/
Frequency (in current use):  Show frequency band information
Origin: Formed within English, by derivation. Etymons: literal adj., -ly suffix2.
Etymology: < literal adj. + -ly suffix2. Compare Middle French, French littéralement   (1465), Spanish literalmente   (second half of the 14th cent.), Italian letteralmente   (1304 as †litteralmente  ). Compare letterly adv.
 I. In a literal manner or sense.

 a. In a literal, exact, or actual sense; not figuratively, allegorically, etc.

c1429   Mirour Mans Saluacioune (1986) l. 553   Litteraly haf ȝe herde this dreme and what it ment.
1494   W. Hilton Scala Perfeccionis (de Worde) ii. xliii. sig. rv   Whan Ihesu is mayster it is expowned and declared litterally, morally, mystily, & heuenly yf the mater suffre it.
1533   J. Frith Bk. answeringe Mores Let. sig. Dii   Allthough it were Literallye fulfillyd in the Childern of Israell..yet was it also mente and veryfyed in Chryst hym selfe.
1579   W. Fulke Heskins Parl. Repealed in D. Heskins Ouerthrowne 105   They interprete literally, which the doctors did write figuratively.
1612   T. Taylor Αρχὴν Ἁπάντων: Comm. Epist. Paul to Titus i. 6   He expoundeth the same precept necessarily to be meant litterally.
1664   H. More Apol. in Modest Enq. Myst. Iniquity 481   All those Passages are not to be Literally understood.
1719   D. Defoe Farther Adventures Robinson Crusoe 311   This was a China-Ware-house indeed, truly and literally to be call'd so.
1783   Ld. Hailes Disquis. Antiq. Christian Church iv. 78 (note)    It may be doubted, whether this was ever literally true.
1876   E. Mellor Priesthood iv. 161   Literally speaking, ‘this cup’ could never be ‘a new covenant’.
1895   Sir A. Kekewich in Law Times Rep. 73 663/1   It is found that the Act does not mean literally what it says.
1938   Lancet 26 Nov. 1229/2   Osteosclerosis literally means a hardening of bone, but the term is generally used..to signify bone which casts a dense shadow in a radiogram.
1973   H. Brodkey in New Yorker 17 Sept. 68/2   She often became very angry with me for taking her literally.
2002   M. Desai Marx's Revenge (2004) x. 169   The expression ‘class warfare’ was meant analogically, not literally, by Marx and Engels.

c1429—2002(Hide quotations)


 b. Used to indicate that the following word or phrase must be taken in its literal sense, usually to add emphasis.

1670   Earl of Clarendon Ess. in Tracts (1727) 198   He is literally felo de se, who deprives and robs himself of that which no body but himself can rob him of.
1687   J. Dryden Hind & Panther iii. 79   My daily bread is litt'rally implor'd.
1708   A. Pope Corr. 18 Mar. (1956) I. 42   Every day with me is litterally Another To-morrow; for it is exactly the same with Yesterday.
1761–2   D. Hume Hist. Eng. (1806) V. lxxi. 341   He had the singular fate of dying literally of hunger.
1769   ‘Junius’ Stat Nominis Umbra (1772) II. xxx. 6   What punishment has he suffered? Literally none.
1887   I. Randall Lady's Ranche Life Montana 76   The air is literally scented with them all.
1930   Nature Mag. Mar. 136/2   Two other diseases..have been added to the list of maladies that are spread by these literally pestiferous insects.
1963   I. Murdoch Unicorn ii. viii. 85   He must have fallen literally at her feet and lain there gasping.
2006   N.Y. Rev. Bks. 2 Nov. 20/2   Bloody Dionysian murders..in which a man, said to be a ‘rapist’, is literally torn into pieces.

1670—2006(Hide quotations)


 c. colloquial. Used to indicate that some (frequently conventional) metaphorical or hyperbolical expression is to be taken in the strongest admissible sense: ‘virtually, as good as’; (also) ‘completely, utterly, absolutely’.Now one of the most common uses, although often considered irregular in standard English since it reverses the original sense of literally (‘not figuratively or metaphorically’).

1769   F. Brooke Hist. Emily Montague IV. ccxvii. 83   He is a fortunate man to be introduced to such a party of fine women at his arrival; it is literally to feed among the lilies.
1801   Spirit of Farmers' Museum 262   He is, literally, made up of marechal powder, cravat, and bootees.
1825   J. Denniston Legends Galloway 99   Lady Kirkclaugh, who, literally worn to a shadow, died of a broken heart.
1863   F. A. Kemble Jrnl. Resid. Georgian Plantation 105   For the last four years..I literally coined money.
1876   ‘M. Twain’ Adventures Tom Sawyer ii. 20   And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth.
1906   Westm. Gaz. 15 Nov. 2/1   Mr. Chamberlain literally bubbled over with gratitude.
1975   Chem. Week (Nexis) 26 Mar. 10   ‘They're literally throwing money at these programs,’ said a Ford Administration official.
2008   Herald-Times (Bloomington, Indiana) 22 Oct. a8/1   ‘OMG, I literally died when I found out!’ No, you figuratively died. Otherwise, you would not be around to relay your pointless anecdote.

1769—2008(Hide quotations)


 a. With reference to a version of something, as a transcription, translation, etc.: in the very words, word for word.

1591   A. Fraunce Countesse of Pembrokes Yuychurch ii. iii. sig. H   The man..thought it a wondrous fault, that I did..not literally repeate euery word at large out of Saunders case in Plowden.
1616   H. Spelman De non Temerandis Ecclesiis App. 178   Wee following Genebrad, Caluin and Arias Montanus, translate it literally.
1646   Sir T. Browne Pseudodoxia Epidemica iii. xvi. 145   Which are literally thus translated.  View more context for this quotation
1712   R. Steele Spectator No. 521. ⁋5   Others repeat only what they hear from others as literally as their parts or zeal will permit.
a1753   R. Newton in tr. Theophrastus Characters (1754) p. viii   I would..advise every Scholar..to translate his Author thus literally, word for word.
1843   J. W. Carlyle Lett. I. 238   Every word of this is literally as the men spoke it.
1880   W. G. Hammond in F. Lieber Legal & Polit. Hermeneutics (ed. 3) App., 290   Some of them [sc. rules] are repeated literally, while others appear under slightly different forms, but with substantially the same meaning.
1905   Chinese Recorder & Missionary Jrnl. July 326   Such a hymn as ‘Eternal Light, Eternal Light, how pure the soul must be’, could scarcely be rendered literally into intelligible mandarin.
2006   G. E. R. Haddock Crit. Introd. Philos. Frege iv. 72   In the second case..we do not reproduce literally what the other person said, but only the sense of the other person's words.

1591—2006(Hide quotations)


 b. In extended use. With exact fidelity of representation; faithfully.

1816   Ld. Byron (title)    Churchill's Grave, a fact literally rendered.
1892   R. Blomfield & F. I. Thomas Formal Garden in Eng. viii. 170   They preserved some of its [sc. the formal garden's] worst features, among them the Palladian bridge, which was repeated literally both at Stowe and Prior Park.
1936   F. G. Moore Roman's World xi. 340   There is no misguided attempt to reproduce literally the texture of skin or garment [in a sculpture].
1984   N.Y. Mag. 10 Dec. 92/3   Physical passion is almost impossible to portray literally on the dance stage.

1816—1984(Hide quotations)

II. By or with regard to letters.

 a. With or by the letters (of a word). Obsolete. rare.

1584   R. Scot Discouerie Witchcraft xvi. iii. 474   One T. of Canturburie, whose name I will not litterallie discouer.
1804   A. Murray Bruce's Trav. Source Nile (ed. 2) II. 29   These Shangalla..live under the shade of trees... [Note] Written literally in Ethiopic, Shankala; but pronounced Shangalla.
1885   School Educ. 4 103   Pupils should be required to spell words both literally and phonically... For instance, c-a-t is the literal spelling of the word cat.

1584—1885(Hide quotations)


 b. In or with regard to letters or literature. Obsolete. rare.

1593   R. Harvey Philadelphus 7   And yet I tell you me-thinkes you are very bookishly and literally wise.

1593—1593(Hide quotations)


This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, September 2011; most recently modified version published online December 2022).

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