‘What, Literally or Really’?

Overheard last night at the Cross Keys, in central Leeds, from a woman in her early twenties responding to an entertaining story told by a man about the same age, which contained a figurative (I guess) mention of having ‘lost my balls’:

What, literally or really?

Speech error, or part of ‘literal’ drift? I realize now that I write it down that there are two possible intonations of this phrase, giving slightly different meanings, and I can’t say with certainty in retrospect which one was actually produced. But in both cases (1) where ‘literally’ and ‘really’ are truly meant as contrasting pairs here; and (2) where ‘really’ is a just correction meant to replace ‘literally’; the speech event shows a (maybe momentarily) less than firm grasp on the word.

For the P&C ‘literal’ library, see:

Literally Etymologically

Literally Truly

Literally Metaphorically


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