Let me say publicly that DonBoy’s answer exudes a combination of intuitive genius and confidence that make me think DonBoy is going to do big things in his life. -- Steven D. Levitt (Freakonomics blog)
Friday, March 17, 2006
Usage Note

An interesting case in a headline at the Boston Globe: Sellers literally put homes on the block

The story is about the people who sell their houses through traditional, non-eBay-based auctions, with an auctioneer and everything. It's interesting because the usual "mis-use" (I'm being agnostic here for the moment) of "literally" is as an intensifier of a metaphor, as in "I literally exploded with joy". In this instance, though, it's being used to indicate that one level of possible metaphor is being stripped away, since as I said, the auction is real and physical, not virtual.

But obviously the homes are not actually being raised off the ground and put onto a physical auction block for display; the set expression "on the block" is being treated as so opaque that it's impervious to "literal"-ization. So it's both right and wrong. Non-agnostically speaking.

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