"Literally CVS"

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In at least two recent interviews, Eric Trump has objected to his father's recent indictment by complaining about the lack of prosecutorial attention to the factors leading NYC drugstores (he says) to lock up Tylenol and Advil. On Fox News:

And this is a city — I spend a lot of time in New York —
that is falling apart. I went into literally CVS the other day
and you can't buy Tylenol because it's locked behind these
glass counters

And on NewsMax:

I went to Duane Reade the other day
and literally you can't buy Advil in Duane Reade
without having somebody come up with a key and unlock
you know those little plastic things that you pick up

Some of the reaction on Twitter has focused on his political rhetoric, some has focused on his use of literally as an intensifier, and some on a mixture of both.

Eric Trump's quotes indicate that intensifier literally can be tucked in almost anywhere as a discourse modifier, like basically, or perhaps even a nearly-empty filler like you know.

Some past LLOG posts on literally:

"Literally: A History", 11/1/2005
"Popular perceptions of lexicography: MADtv edition", 4/28/2009
"Revenge, literally speaking", 4/9/2010
"They almost non-metaphorically never complain about this!", 3/6/2011
"…may literally be said…", 3/6/2011
"Two Breakfast Experiments™: Literally", 3/8/2011
"A cautionary vision of things to come", 9/14/2012
"Frances Brooke, destroyer of English (not literally)", 8/15/2013
"Language Log literally changes your brain", 8/25/2016
"'Literally' legality", 5/25/2020


  1. Taylor, Philip said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 7:54 am

    In "literally CVS", it is the "CVS" that I do not understand,. not the "literally"

    [(myl) Um, the Wikipedia entry — or CVS.com?]

  2. Bloix said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 8:41 am

    Think "Boots."

  3. Joe said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 9:40 am

    "Eric Trump's quotes indicate that intensifier literally can be tucked in almost anywhere as a discourse modifier"

    I'm not sure I'd use Eric Trump speaking extemporaneously and breathlessly as the authority on mainstream English usage. Although it's clear that "literally" intensifies the entire sentence semantically, in the first clip grammatically it might have been meant to modify "went" or "can't" as in the second clip and just come out in a jumbled order of words, like how he interrupted himself to add "I spend a lot of time in New York", so then this would be just the normal mainstream usage plus an error in the delivery.

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 9:53 am

    I find the "literally CVS" usage quite odd (and possibly a production error) but the "literally you can't buy" usage unremarkable. I would think "you literally can't buy" would be the default word order,* but moving the adverb one slot to the left doesn't strike my ear as outside the boundaries of ordinary idiomaticity.

    *"You can't literally buy" would also be fine but would mean something slightly different (maybe it would be the "literal" sense of "literally"?) or at least put focus on a different facet of the situation.

  5. Gregory Kusnick said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 10:19 am

    One might imagine that in Eric Trump's world, walking into a store and doing his own shopping is a noteworthy occurrence. And we're not talking about some high-end haberdasher, but literally CVS.

  6. Jerry Packard said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 11:56 am

    I think GK got it.

    It pains me to note that I’m now old enough to remember when literally meant just that, and when it took those first feeble steps away from just that.

  7. ktschwarz said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 12:55 pm

    Jerry Packard, wow, you're in incredible shape for a 250-year-old. Please share your diet and skin-care tips.

  8. Philip Anderson said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 5:12 pm

    Since the opening paragraph refers to NYC drugstores locking up Tylenol, and the next to CVS locking up Tylenol, it seemed obvious to me that CVS was a drugstore (i.e. chemist or pharmacy).
    If CVS is the largest chain in the US, I assume Eric Trump was emphasising that even CVS locks it up, and so “literally” means “this is true, I’m not kidding, honestly”. Each time, he says it before the word or phrase he is emphasising, which sounds odd in the first example but not I think the second.

  9. Jerry Packard said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 8:16 pm

    …or so it seemed to me!

  10. Rick Rubenstein said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 8:43 pm

    Perhaps he wanted to make it clear he wasn't dissing Walgreens, who caved to right-wing interests by no longer carrying abortion pills in red states. In which case he literally meant "literally" in the literal sense. (I don't actually believe this explanation, BTW.)

  11. AntC said,

    April 2, 2023 @ 12:16 am

    For the record, Trump's literal claims are literally not true — CNN fact check.

  12. martin schwartz said,

    April 2, 2023 @ 12:38 am

    Adville is semi-literate, and Duane can hardly Reade. CVS I know because there's one across the street from our Berkeley home.
    Its consumer value service has declined, but if you live nearby
    it's convenience viable still.
    I didn't know of Duane Reade when I lived in NYC in the 1960s, but there they were when I later visited. Duane Reade was founded
    in NYC by three brothers Cohen, of Syrian origin, in a warehouse
    between Duane and Reade Streets. It now is in the maws of the big Green Whale, after a being gobbled up in a consumative succession
    like (on a timely note) the One Kid in the Aramaic Passover song, figuratively and literately, but not literally.
    A happy paschal season to all,
    Martin Schwartz

  13. martin schwartz said,

    April 2, 2023 @ 12:41 am

    oops, consumptive, not consumative, for all it matters.

  14. Ryan said,

    April 2, 2023 @ 1:23 am

    Trump was just emphasizing his family’s longtime connections to the region. He meant “as opposed to verbally Consumer Value Store.”

  15. Ryan said,

    April 2, 2023 @ 1:27 am

    Along with a subtext of “nor numerically Store 24.”

  16. chris said,

    April 4, 2023 @ 7:02 am

    @AntC: That link discusses the NYC crime rate in general, but not the stories about the inconvenient process of buying certain medications at CVS.

    In the US there are some medications that although they are legal to buy, you can't literally grab them off the shelves and take them to the cash register like normal merchandise — there are special restrictions on them because they are potential ingredients in making other (illegal) drugs. I don't recall Tylenol or Advil being included in that, but even if they are, that's not something unique to NYC nor does it have anything to do with the crime rate there (which is, as the link points out, far below its peak in the 1990s — I was going to say literally below, but since the crime rate is an abstraction, *any* description of its ups and downs is metaphorical).

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