Second definition of "literally" is inaccurate?

I know there was a lot of controversy a while back when the OED added the second, "informal" definition of the word "literally," but I think some of that controversy may have come from the fact that the definition doesn't actually match how people use the word, at least in my circles (I'm a 23-year-old American).
The definition currently reads "used for emphasis while not being literally true," and while that does describe some uses, I think it falls short of an actual definition. In my experience, the word is a neutral intensifier similar to "totally," with no implications regarding whether the statement in question is literal (definition 1.1) or figurative. In other words, it comes from definition 1.2 of "literal," not from an ironic reversal of the original meaning of "literally."

An example sentence:
Yesterday, a student literally told me that a dog ate her homework.
It is literally (definition 1) true that the student said that a dog ate her homework, but the teacher is not using the word to comment on whether the student's statement was literal or figurative. He is, instead, using it to emphasize the absurdity of the situation and to activate an emotional response.

Another example is Michael Cohen's tweet in response to Donald Trump's claim about being "the least anti-Semitic person you've ever seen in your life":
He literally said this to a guy wearing a yarmulke.
While Donald Trump did literally (definition 1) say it to a guy wearing a yarmulke, Cohen's use of the word is meant to show the intensity of the emotion and/or irony such a statement would hold for Trump's devoutly Jewish audience.

What are people's thoughts? Do you agree that the current definition is inadequate? Or am I missing a distinction that needs to be made?


  • Hello @Ludwa
    Our dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive. When we are defining a word we combine our understanding of how it is used in the language with an analysis of resources such as the Oxford English Corpus. We do not try to influence what words are used, or how they are used, but instead aim to provide a record of how language is being used.

    You can find out more here:

    We strive to make our dictionaries as accurate as possible, and are grateful when people provide us with suggestions of definitions that might need updating. Your message has now been forwarded to our editorial team for their awareness.

    Kind regards,

    The Oxford Dictionaries team

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