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In many videos, the streamers there use the word 'legitly' or 'legitimately' to mean very or really. For examples, the Anime Man says,

I legitimately thought, the first time i saw this article, I thought it was like an onion article.

Also, Chibi says,

I'm in legitimate shock

and

I'm legitimately curious on the info.

However, when I check that word in dictionaries(OxfordLearnersDictionary, theCambridgeDictionary, theFreeDictionary and the vocabulary.com), there's no such meaning as 'really' or 'very', the meanings there are all about reasonable or lawful.

So, I suspect 'legitimately' is a slang when it means really. Am I correct? Is it appropriate to use it that way in a formal situation? (Except an English test, that is. I don't think it a good idea to use it that way in a language test.)

3 Answers 3

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In formal situations, you can use "legitimate" or "legitimately," but the meaning usually tends more toward "valid" or "validly." Example:

He raises a number of legitimate points in favor of his client.

It can also mean "real"; I'll take an example from M-W:

a legitimate threat to national security

In casual conversation, you are right that it means "real" or "really," (although not in the sense of "very," but rather in the sense of "for real," which I think you understand). So, given that "legitimate" is also used in formal contexts to mean "real," this use of the word isn't necessarily slang, as such, in casual conversation.

Nevertheless, in formal contexts, the word isn't usually used the way it's used in your three examples - i.e., as a way for a person to state that their reaction to something is real rather than fake or an exaggeration. This would be the more colloquial usage - on par with saying, "I literally thought it was an onion article" or "I'm actually curious about that."

This Chibi fellow's "I'm in legitimate shock" sounds a bit forced and strange to me.

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Yes, "legitimately" is an informal way of emphasizing something that is actually an exaggeration, not really true at all.

For instance, someone claiming to be "in legitimate shock" is probably not in shock.

It feels like a near synonym to the (unfortunately) figurative sense of the world "literally", which is used to literally mean "figuratively", as defined at Merriam-Webster:

2 : in effect : virtually —used in an exaggerated way to emphasize a statement or description that is not literally true or possible

The word "legitimately" is used in a very similar way. The two words may be completely interchangeable in this sense.

The Merriam-Webster page I reference above includes a lot of discussion at the end which, in my mind, applies equally to "legitimately" in the sense you're asking about.

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  • Yes I recognise "literally" - used in this sense. ( e.g. My head literally exploded). But I've not come across "legitimately" in the same context. Indeed that hyperbolical sense of "literally" is now recognised by the OED as sense 1c. , with an entry from as early as: 1769 F. Brooke Hist. Emily Montague IV. ccxvii. 83 He is a fortunate man to be introduced to such a party of fine women at his arrival; it is literally to feed among the lilies.
    – WS2
    Nov 8, 2022 at 21:04
  • @WS2 What do you mean by 'feed among the lilies'? I don't know much about the Bible.
    – Michael
    Nov 9, 2022 at 3:21
  • @Michael Take a look at this
    – WS2
    Nov 9, 2022 at 8:37
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In this sense, legitimately is used to express the idea that a statement of the given assertion is, in fact, true.

So:

"The Beatles were legitimately the greatest band ever"

is asserting that the writer believes that the statement:

The Beatles were the greatest band ever, is 'real', or 'legitimate'.

So, 'legitimately' can certainly be considered a synonym for 'really', but that use is probably best avoided in a formal situation.

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  • Yes. It's an assertion of belief. Nov 8, 2022 at 11:17
  • 'is asserting that the writer believes that'? Sounds like it can only be used in a statement about others, but I actually have heard people using it in a statement about themselves. Say, the anime man says 'I legitimately thought the first time i saw this article I thought it was like an onion article'. Also, Chibi says 'I'm in legitimate shock' and 'I'm legitimately curious on the info'.
    – Michael
    Nov 8, 2022 at 11:51
  • @Michael That's why I said 'In this sense'. In other senses it could mean: 'I had good reason to', 'I had certain reason to', 'I had the legal right to', or 'really'. The reader has to work out which meaning from context, if that is even possible. Otherwise they can just take it as an emphasiser that the writer/speaker is using to assert that s/he has either a good reason or an actual right.
    – PRL75
    Nov 8, 2022 at 12:13
  • Oh, thanks. But I'm more concerned whether it can be used in a formal situation with this meaning.
    – Michael
    Nov 8, 2022 at 12:38
  • @Michael That depends on the context. If the context is 'sensible', then it can be used formally. Otherwise it should not e. e.g. "My brother's grunge band were legitimately the greatest musicians who ever lived" would make the writer look like an idiot. However, "He legitimately thought he was correct", could be used formally, if the 'he' concerned had good reason to believe that he was correct. So, to answer your question, no, do not use legitimately to mean really in a formal situation. Answer edited.
    – PRL75
    Nov 8, 2022 at 12:45

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