Monday, March 28, 2005

Pet peeve or pedantry?

I agree with little in this Media Bistro column about usage and grammar. Writer Jesse Kornbluth rants about 10 errors that make him -- and, he says, "all readers and editors who actually liked English class" -- flinch.

HOPEFULLY: Kornbluth says:
Everyone uses "hopefully" as a shortcut for "I hope." It is not. Yes, the dictionary allows it, but that's just bending to popular usage. In my book, there is only one correct use for "hopefully." It's a synonym for "prayerfully"?as in, "She looked up hopefully and said, 'Dear Lord, please make it rain soon, or we'll have no harvest.'" Do you want to say "I hope"? Then say "I hope."
I say: Poppycock. But I'm no expert. Here's what Garner has to say:
Four points about this word. First, it was widely condemned from the 1960s to the 1980s. Briefly, the objects are that (1) hopefully properly means "in a hopeful manner" and shouldn't be used in the radically different sense "I hope" or "it is to be hoped"; (2) if the extended sense is accepted, the original sense will be forever lost; and (3) in constructions such as "Hopefully, it won't rain this afternoon," the writer illogically ascribes an emotion (hopefulness) to a nonperson. Hopefully isn't analogous to curiously (= it is a curious fact that), fortunately (= it is a fortunate thing that), and sadly (= it is a sad fact that). How so? Unlike all those other sentence adverbs, hopefully can't be resolved into any longer expression involving the word hopeful -- but only hope (e.g. it is to be hoped that or I hope that).

Second, whatever the merits of those arguments, the battle is now over. Hopefully is now a part of American English, and it has all but lost its traditional meaning. ...

Third, some stalwarts continue to condemn the word, so that anyone using it in the new sense is likely to have a credibility problem with some readers. ...

Fourth, though the controversy swirling around this word has subsided, it is now a skunked term. Avoid it in all sense if you're concerned with your credibility; if you use it in the traditional way, many readers will think it odd; if you use it in the newish way, a few readers will tacitly tut-tut you.
Or, as Bill Walsh puts it more succinctly: "I won't complain if you use hopefully the way most people do, but be prepared to hear a lot of other people gripe. Personally, I avoid this usage, if only to avoid the scorn of the misinformed legions."

I'll spare you the dissection of the other nine points, other than to say that I agree that a distinction must be preserved between "its" and "it's" and that "a day that changed us forever" is an unforgivable cliche.

But read them and see what you get out of it.

What did I get? Everyone is entitled to their pet peeves, but realize that they're not always law.


At 1:48 PM, March 28, 2005, Blogger Mike said...

One of my English professors summed up his view of hopefully with a cartoon that ran in The New Yorker. A politician stands in front of throngs of potential voters and proclaims: "My advisors have told me not to say 'hopefully,' but dammit I'm going to say it anyway!"

The point being, I guess, that the advisors are out of touch with normal people. So as far as "hopefully" goes, we can either please the prescriptivists, or please people who actually leave the house once in a while. Of course, it's a New Yorker cartoon, so it might not actually mean anything.

At 1:52 PM, March 28, 2005, Blogger Mike said...

BTW, I'm surprised he didn't tackle the e.g./i.e. conundrum, which is getting out of hand.

At 12:31 PM, April 03, 2005, Blogger aparker54 said...

For a few discussions on the irrational bias against “hopefully” as a sentence adverb, see:

(I apologize for nonlive links — I don't know how to make them work in Blogger. And, if the Random House link really wanders off into the margin, here's how it looks in two lines:


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