For centuries when someone wanted to emphasize a point they would use the polite and humble word “quite,” as in “I am quite sure.” This is still common in most parts Great Britain, for example, particularly among the more genteel. In the 1960’s people, namely the youth of the day, wanted greater emphasis on their statements, so they adopted the term “for sure” (more commonly pronounced “fer shur”) for increased punctuation.
Beginning in the early 1980s “for sure” became inadequate, so young people upped the accentuation by turning to an even stronger word — “totally.” This seemed sufficient for a number of years, but alas, it did not last.
After the new millennium a less in-demand locution began to take thrive. It was quickly popularized in common vernacular, even beyond the younger set. That is the word “literally.” Even with the word’s indefinite and unmatched resolved, the people wanted something more. Thus they attempted to exponentially intensify their emphasis by using it in what linguists agree to be the most improper and overdone manner. Anyone from a different era would have thought that strong laughter would indeed induce immediate death and that melted heads would be the result of extended instances of boredom.
One might wonder what’s next. Will people literally be totally fer shur? Will one need to whistle loudly to make one’s point? There must be some irony in the fact that studies have confirmed that “literally” has by far become both the most widely used adverb and the most misused word in our language.
So-called changes in the dictionary notwithstanding, perhaps we have reached the threshold of stressed verbiage. Literally.