I Was Literally Gobsmacked

No you weren’t.

I heard this on the radio a few years ago, from a “Heat” magazine reporter. I actually referenced it very briefly previously, when I wrote about the misuse of the word literally. Something made me think about it again. I think it might be because I myself was gobsmacked at something.

I remember being struck by the phrase at the time (no pun intended). I wasn’t really sure  at first if it was right or wrong, though I definitely felt it was more wrong than right. I could understand where the reporter was coming from. A lot of people might exaggerate by saying they were gobsmacked when they were perhaps just surprised to a moderate degree. So she wanted to emphasise that she was truly gobsmacked, i.e. she was actually speechless.

In that sense, what she said is understandable. Still though, really or actually would have been better intensifiers to use, because gobsmacked, in the most literal sense, means hit (smacked) in the mouth (gob). So strictly, by saying she was literally gobsmacked, she was saying that she was hit in the mouth. And fortunately, that wasn’t the case.

So what lesson can we learn from this? One might be that we should all learn to use literally properly. I’d be a little more conciliatory, and say that I can understand people using literally as an intensifier sometimes, but… well, why use it at all? Look at how confusing it can be. You’ll always have the old reliables really, truly, and actually, which do a perfectly serviceable job, so why not use them instead?

If you really think about it, you’ll be truly gobsmacked at how little you need to use literally!

3 thoughts on “I Was Literally Gobsmacked

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