There is a very important question being tackled again by certain smart people of the Internet, and that question is this: What, exactly, is the worst word on the entire planet? Any time this question or one like it is broached, an opened floodgate of response is ensured, likely to include words like moist, fecund, phlegm, artisanal, or if you work at The New Yorker, slacks. We continue to believe that coöperation is öffensive, as is the corresponding word, diaeresis, which remains ever so hard to spell no matter how many times we type it.
On Thursday Sarah Miller made a strong argument on The Awl for literally as our English-speaking community's worst word. This is not a bad word to choose as the very worst. Flagrant misuses abound, and it's ever so annoying when people say literally when they actually mean not literally. Literally, in fact, is rarely used when it should be used, which is almost never, and almost always when it shouldn't.
I recall vividly, if not literally, an instance in which I had to correct a very good friend who said the pavement was so hot that her bare feet were "literally being scalded." They weren't! We haven't spoken since, literally, by which I mean, of course we've spoken, what does it even mean to speak literally? Miller offers up five reasons that literally should take the crown of worst word ever, including "People use literally because they're always lying and they think literally makes their bullshit sound better"; "People use literally because they feel like all their stories have to be exciting" (these two reasons are literally quite similar); and well, here's the thing about literally: It's an unnecessary word. There is almost literally no occasion in which you need to use it, and rarely an occasion that it does anything to make what you're saying better. It's a waste of space, word decor that undermines the point of what's being said.