don't take this literally...

today i relayed one of my favorite language change stories. some time ago, i heard a sports announcer say this on the radio:

(1) the fans are literally riveted to their seats!

now, one can only assume he did not really mean that the fans are *literally* riveted to their seats. i can just imagine a stadium full of bleeding, punctured, riveted spectators.

i have noticed other language changes in process, but few are quite so striking. in this case, we have a meaning reversal: 'literally' is coming to mean 'figuratively'. it seems to occur easily with idiomatic expressions of intensity/extent:

(2) it was so funny, i was literally peeing my pants.
(3) i was literally scared to death.

in fact, my intuition is that when used with an expression of extent, one would be less likely to use 'literally' literally.

(4) there are literally a thousand reasons why i don't want to go out tonight.
(5) #there are literally 7 reasons why i don't want to go out tonight.

unless the magnitude of the extent is very large:
(6) there are literally over a thousand weeds in my lawn--i counted!'

upon checking the OED, it looks like i was on the right track:
b. Used to indicate that the following word or phrase must be taken in its literal sense.

Now often improperly used to indicate that some conventional metaphorical or hyperbolical phrase is to be taken in the strongest admissible sense.
as a linguist, i have an issue with the word 'improperly' as used above. i tend to think that however native speakers use their language is proper. the interesting approach is not to tell people how they should and should not talk, but to describe and explain how they actually *do* talk.