New Browser Plug-in Would Literally Annihilate This Headline

Apr 23, 2014
Originally published on April 30, 2014 12:49 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This next story is literally about the word...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Literally.

CORNISH: ...literally. As in a literal sense or manner.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

That's also the name of a free Internet browser extension created by New York programmer Mike Lazer-Walker.

MIKE LAZER-WALKER: So all it does, you install it in your Web browser, and then any website you visit, any time the word literally is printed, it instead replaces it with figuratively.

CORNISH: That's literally all it does. On behalf of all language nerds, we'd like to quote Rob Lowe's character on the TV show "Parks and Recreation" and say...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARKS AND RECREATION")

ROB LOWE: (As Chris Traeger) That idea is literally the greatest idea I have ever heard in my life.

BLOCK: If only Rob Lowe had that plug-in.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARKS AND RECREATION")

LOWE: (As Chris Traeger) That idea is...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Figuratively.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARKS AND RECREATION")

LOWE: (As Chris Traeger) ...the greatest idea I have ever heard in my life.

BLOCK: Lazer-Walker says he created the program to poke fun at people who use the word literally incorrectly, though some dictionaries have now expanded its definition to include it as an informal intensifier. But Lazer-Walker's browser extension doesn't discriminate.

LAZER-WALKER: It's not intelligent at all. It doesn't try to figure out, like, did you actually mean literally as in the thing that actually happened or are you just using it for emphasis? It just blankly replaces every instance of literally with figuratively.

CORNISH: But he does appreciate when literally is used correctly.

LAZER-WALKER: There was a baseball game recently where - I assume it was the batter, he hit the ball so hard that the ball actually fell apart. And so when all these news headlines said, you know, the player literally destroyed a baseball, he did literally destroy it.

CORNISH: But if you were using the program?

LAZER-WALKER: He figuratively destroyed it.

BLOCK: A few people have tried to persuade Mike Lazer-Walker that the second definition of literally is equally valid. But he says the response to his browser extension has been largely positive. In fact, some have said it is figuratively the best thing ever.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.