I was listening to the news the other day, and heard someone say that they were “literally flabbergasted” at something. I don’t recall what had caused the flabbergastation, or anything in particular about the news story, but it got me thinking. Is there any other way to be flabbergasted?
I mean, I’m not here to rehash the old “literal versus figurative” thing, though I tend to abandon my normal descriptivist leanings and come across all prescriptivist about that particular topic. Obviously, it doesn’t make sense to tack “literally” onto “flabbergasted” if one is using literally properly. Flabbergasting doesn’t really have a concrete sense, so there’s no need to explain to everyone that you aren’t, in this particular case, talking about being figuratively flabbergasted (what would figuratively flabbergasted look like?).
But see here, even if we allow improper use of literally as a generic intensifier, it doesn’t make much sense here. “Flabbergasted” is a pretty damn intense word already. Intensifying it is kind of gilding the lily, isn’t it? It’s sort of the ne plus ultra of surprise already, folks. Leave it alone.