Etymology
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literal (adj.)
late 14c., "taking words in their natural meaning" (originally in reference to Scripture and opposed to mystical or allegorical), from Late Latin literalis/litteralis "of or belonging to letters or writing," from Latin litera/littera "letter, alphabetic sign; literature, books" (see letter (n.1)). Related: Literalness.

Meaning "of or pertaining to alphabetic letters" is from late 14c. Meaning "concerned with letters and learning, learned, scholarly" is from mid-15c. Sense of "verbally exact, according to the letter of verbal expression" is attested from 1590s, as is application to the primary sense of a word or passage. Literal-minded is attested from 1791.
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literality (n.)

"quality of being literal; literal meaning," 1640s; see literal + -ity.

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literalist (n.)
"one who adheres to the exact word," 1640s, from literal + -ist. Related: Literalistic (1850).
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literalism (n.)

"literal interpretation or understanding," 1640s, from French littéralisme; see literal + -ism. In art, "exact rendering or representation," shading toward "unimaginative exactness."

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quadriliteral (adj.)

"consisting of four letters;" also, of Semitic roots, "consisting of four consonants," 1771, from quadri- "four" + literal.

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literally (adv.)

1530s, "in a literal sense, according to the exact meaning of the word or words used," from literal + -ly (2). Since late 17c. it has been used in metaphors, hyperbole, etc., to indicate what follows must be taken in the strongest admissible sense. But this is irreconcilable with the word's etymological sense and has led to this much-lamented modern use of it.

We have come to such a pass with this emphasizer that where the truth would require us to insert with a strong expression 'not literally, of course, but in a manner of speaking', we do not hesitate to insert the very word we ought to be at pains to repudiate; ... such false coin makes honest traffic in words impossible. [Fowler, 1924]
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fathomable (adj.)
1630s, figurative; 1690s, literal; from fathom (v.) + -able.
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sugary (adj.)
1590s, literal and figurative, from sugar (n.) + -y (2). Related: Sugariness.
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buttress (v.)
late 14c., literal and figurative, from buttress (n.). Related: Buttressed; buttressing.
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unalloyed (adj.)
1670s (figurative); 1760s (literal), from un- (1) "not" + past participle of alloy (v.).
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