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Page last updated at 09:26 GMT, Monday, 12 March 2012

Do we overuse 'literally'?


"Literally" is one of the most commonly misused words in the English language.

Even the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is guilty of it after saying that people who are paying low rates of tax are "literally in a different galaxy".

Mark Forsyth, author of The Etymologicon, told the Today programme's John Humphrys that the word was first used - as it has come to be defined - in 1769.

And he added that the meaning of a word like "quite" changed according to changes in the tone of voice.

Writer and comedian Paul Parry, who describes himself as the "literal tsar" said that he has heard weather presenters say there will literally be a spot or two of rain and radio DJs say records are "literally flying off the shelves".

"It has reached epidemic proportions," he said, that will lead to confusion.

Mark Forsyth said it is human nature to change words over time, citing the example of the word "soon" - which originally meant "immediately" - but evolved into the meaning it has now.

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