According to AskOxford.com 'an intensifier is an adverb used to give force or emphasis, for example really in my feet are really cold.' However, many people wrongly use literally as an intensifier, as in the following examples taken from various websites:-
- I was literally blown away when I tested this device's noise reduction capabilities.(www.4allgadgets.com)
- Overall, Sony is better, but then this Acer notebook is literally a steal at that price. (www.chip.in)
- "Destiny literally came knocking at my door and I welcomed it," says Aditya. (From an interview with Aditya Raj Kapoor, in www.zoomtv.in)
- Amitabhji has been a source of inspiration because he has literally opened the highway for mature actors to do meaningful work in India. (Same source as no. 3 above)
In the first sentence, for instance, really would have been a good substitute for literally since I am sure that the person who was testing the device did not get blown away by the gadget exploding (which is its literal meaning); he got blown away merely in a metaphorical sense.
Similarly, Destiny knocked at Aditya's door, metaphorically speaking and not literally.
Literally has been used correctly in the following news headline:-
It's raining fish in Lajamanu – literally
Believe it or not but a Territory town in Australia has witnessed fish raining from the sky twice this week. Apparently hundreds and hundreds of small, white fish fell from the sky at Lajamanu, about 550 km southeast of Katherine.
And it seems that this error is not restricted to Indians as evident from this blog dedicated entirely to the misuse of literally.