Taking Literally Too Literally

The city was brought literally to its knees.

When he heard the news, he literally flew off the handle.

She literally went ballistic.

If you like unambiguous communication, if you like logic, if you like having a word that means "take these words at face value and don't mistake them for mere metaphor," then you hate how the word "literally" is used in these sentences.

But what if you don't stop there? What if you hate, "It knocked him literally unconscious" when referring to someone who walked into a pole and fell to the ground, where he lay nonresponsive? What if you hate, "The business literally shuttered its doors" to describe a store where slats of wood were hammered over the entrance? What if you hate, "I'm literally freezing to death" spoken by a character in a novel right before he dies of exposure?

Then you just might be Trigger Smith, proprietor of a bar called the Continental in New York City's East Village, where a few months ago Smith posted this sign in the window in all capital letters: "Sorry, but if you say the word 'literally' inside the Continental, you have five minutes to finish your drink and then you must leave."

Here's the rest of my column on Smith's anti-literally crusade.