I saw this several months ago but didn't get around to linking to it, and I've been spending all my online time looking at the bevy of activity on the Supreme Court blogs, so I wanted to post something that didn't take much time (and I had to drudge the dregs of my potential blogging list to find this). According to Justin Taylor in the above-linked post (there's no citation or link, so I'm taking his word for it), Hillary Clinton seemed to admit in January that she was allowing her supporters to die of exposure at one of her rallies. How so? Well, she said it was so cold that her supporters at the rally were literally freezing to death.
It's so funny that the word 'literally' is one of the most common words used to mean something other than its literal meaning. Here's another example that I love repeating. The great philosopher William Alston told our Christian philosophers' group about a decade ago that he had once heard a football announcer say, "and when he gets down into the red zone, he literally explodes!" I knew football was dangerous, but I didn't know how bad it really was!
What's going on here linguistically is that the word 'literally' is being used as an intensifier rather than to convey its literal meaning. This usage of the word is roughly synonymous to other intensifiers such as 'really', 'truly', and 'completely'. There's nothing linguistically inappropriate about it. Words don't always mean their literal meaning or their usual meaning. What's funny about it is how easy it is to intensify a metaphor by adding the word 'literal' without meaning it literally at all. In this case, it's particularly unfortunate, because if you did take her literally (and she did use the word that might in many cases indicate that you should) she would be admitting to what may well be gross negligence of the sort that could lead to many people's deaths.