The H-word

« previous post | next post »

Clyde Haberman, "Is This the End of Proper Grammar? Hopefully Not", NYT, 4/19/2012.

Unsurprisingly, The Associated Press won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting early this week, for articles about the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods and organizations in the wake of 9/11. Also unsurprising was fresh controversy that the award stirred, given the sensitive subject.

Curiously, that clamor proved to be but a warmup for more hullabaloo over the A.P., on an issue that is dearer to some people’s hearts than police spying. This is about language. Language, of course, is the soul of a culture.

He's talking about the AP Style Guide's decision to allow the use of hopefully as an evaluative adverb, announced on Twitter at 6:22 a.m. on 17 April 2012:

Hopefully, you will appreciate this style update, announced at ‪#aces2012‬. We now support the modern usage of hopefully: it's hoped, we hope.

I didn't notice, frankly;  the "hullabaloo" was a muted one, compared to (say) the Ruckus in the Rada. The Boston Globe copy desk sniffed "Hopefully, we'll see it rarely". Andrew Beaujon at poynter.org sighed "Hopefully, this is the last we’ll write about ‘hopefully’", and pointed out that

Cleverly, Clyde Haberman uses a sentence adverb to begin every paragraph of his story about the change, demonstrating that the prohibition was bunk in the first place, even if pouncing on such “errors” kept many fine copy editors employed (and, by extension, manufacturers of cardigans in business).

Evaluative usage is common for adverbs made from adjectives describing emotional states (happily, mercifully, sadly, etc.). No one got upset when hopefully was now and then used in this way a hundred years ago, as in this passage from E. Morlae, "A soldier of the legion", The Atlantic Monthly, June 1916:

As silently as possible we entered between the trees and carefully kept in touch with each other. It was dark in there, and we had moved along some little distance before our eyes were used to the blackness. As I picked my steps I prepared myself for the shock every man experiences at the first sound of a volley. Twice I fell down into shell-holes and cursed my clumsiness and that of some other fellows to my right. The "Dutch" must be asleep,' I thought, or else they beat it.' Hopefully the latter!

So what happened? As the entry in Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage explains,

hopefully does not appear to have been very widely used; it was available if writers needed it, but few writers did. [...]

Copperud 1970 gives the date of the rapid expansion of use of hopefully as a sentence-modifier as "about 1960". [...] A 1963 edition of Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary recognizes the use. [...]

The onslaught against hopefully in the popular press began in 1965, with denunciations in the Saturday Review (January), the New Yorker (March) and the New York Times (December). The ranks of hopefully haters grew steadily, reaching a peak around 1975, which is the year the issue seems to have crossed the Atlantic [...] Viewer with alarm there would repeat all the things American viewers with alarm had said, and add the charge of "Americanism" to them. [...]

In general, much of the furor in the press has abated since the high tide of the mid-1970s [...] [O]n 10 November 1985 the Prince of Wales used the word during a televised press conference at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. What more prestigious cachet can be put on it?

The Google Ngram Viewer confirms 1960 as the start of a rapid increase in popularity for sentence-adverb hopefully, using hopefully the as a proxy for sentence-adverb status:

So hopefully-hysteria was not completely artificial — it was a reaction to a genuine change in fashion. But the reasons given — that hopefully was a hack translation from German hoffentlich, which was Follett's objection, or that adjectival hopeful could not be used with the same meaning to modify words like fact, or that sentence-initial hopefully was meaningless stalling for compositional time — were clearly rationalizations of an emotional reaction to a change in relative frequency, rather than credible grammatical or even stylistic objections.

And by 1990 or so, most sensible people had either gotten over their reaction, or at least accepted the usage. Even E.B. White recognized the inevitability of a fashion he didn't care for: "I regard the word "hopefully" as beyond recall. I'm afraid it's here to stay, like pollution and sex and death and taxes" [letter 2/16/1970].

Still, hopefully-hysteria persists as a shibboleth of linguistic status display — what we've sometimes called a Zombie Rule. The usage note in the American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style sums this situation up nicely:

It would seem, then, that it is not the use of hopefully as a sentence adverb per se that bothers the Panel, since the comparable use of mercifully is acceptable to a large majority. Rather, hopefully seems to have taken on a life of its own as a sign that the the writer is unaware of the canons of usage.

Why do things like this happen? John McIntyre explains ("Hopefully, someone might learn something", The Baltimore Sun 4/18/2012):

In a New Yorker cartoon from thirty years ago, a man turns to another in a bar and asks belligerently, "Hopefullywise? Did I understand you to say hopefullywise?"

There you have the hopefully brouhaha encapsulated. The Wrong People, the sloppy, trendy vulgarians who tacked -wise indiscriminately onto adjectives were the same sort who would use hopefully as a sentence adverb. It's easy to identify the Wrong People: They belong to some group we like to look down on (advertising, say, or business people in general), they latch on to any linguistic fad that lumbers down the pike, they don't know their Latin, and they have no respect for The Rules.

In fact, evaluative hopefully is a somewhat useful invention, as Cathleen Schine pointed out fastidiously in a 1993 (guest) On Language column in the New York Times Magazine ("Hopefully Springs Eternal", June 20,1993):

While the cat is away, let's play with a heretical notion. Let's engage in a spirited defense of the word hopefully. You know — the bad hopefully. The one without a verb to modify, or even an adjective to modify; the one floating, odd and defiant, at the beginning or the end of a sentence; the one you stop yourself from saying, train yourself never even to think — that hopefully.

I never touch the stuff, myself, and never will. I don't have the stomach for it. My lips draw back from it in horror. The resulting opprobrium is too great. I am a novelist, not a revolutionary. Having made that clear, I would like to say that I am also wrong.

The bad hopefully ought to be used without shame by all those who can bring themselves to do so — the less squeamish, the less prejudiced, the bold, the brave, the visionary. For this hopefully has developed a meaning, a nuance, that cannot be approximated by any other word or combination of words. Beyond being useful, hopefully is necessary, a profound modern expression of an exclusively modern sentiment. If there were no hopefully, man would have to invent it. And so we did.

Clyde Haberman's recent NYT article notes:

“The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage,” while acknowledging that “hopefully” is an adverb that “inflames passions,” cites surveys showing that “large majorities” of writers and teachers cling to the more restrictive use. So does The Times, and no change is contemplated for now, said Philip B. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards.

But the deprecated usage has been sneaking into NYT headlines for some time:

Mekado Murphy, "SXSW: Going to the Movies and Hopefully Getting In", 3/15/2010; Dave Itzkoff, "Matthew Weiner Explains Why ‘Mad Men’ Will (Hopefully) End Like ‘Abbey Road’", 7/14/2011; Lynn Zinser, "Today’s U.S. Open Rain Delay, Hopefully Only a Delay", 9/7/2011; …

In fact, it's not all that easy to find serious negative reactions to the A.P.'s decision in respectable publications. There's Mary Elizabeth Williams ("The audacity of 'hopefully: The AP Stylebook makes a change — and breaks our hearts", Salon 4/19/2012) — but even there the outrage is heavily ironized:

This week, the venerable AP Stylebook has decreed that “Hopefully, you will appreciate this style update, announced at #aces2012. We now support the modern usage of hopefully: it’s hoped, we hope.” To which a million language nerds replied, Noooo!

Perhaps you are the sort of person who wasn’t aware that saying things like, “Hopefully, it won’t rain this weekend” has long been considered a grammatical faux pas. One hopes that you received a deeper language-arts education than that. “Hopefully” is an adverb. An adverb, I tells ya, one that means to do something in a hopeful manner.

Ms. Williams demonstrates her allegiance to various other Zombie Rules, including several that have never had any basis outside the imagination of various self-appointed usage mavens:

Those of us who work with words grapple daily with the issue of where we slide and where we take a hard line. I die a little every time I see a “gonna” or “gotta,” and I’ll jump through linguistic hoops to avoid using “they” or “their” for the singular when the gender isn’t specified. There’s nothing like a note – from a teacher, for God’s sake – commanding that “Every child should bring their lunch” to make me want to switch exclusively to Latin. Yet I’m lax about ending sentences with a preposition, treat phrases like sentences for dramatic effect and use “rapey” and “stabby” and other made-up words on a regular basis. And I start half my sentences with conjunctions.

But this whole shtick is a sort of stagy imitation of a language crank, without the moral seriousness of a Kilpatrick or a Simon. Some commenters will no doubt point us to more earnest and resolute rejections of hopefully as a symptom of cultural decay — and perhaps others will enact such a reaction themselves. But as far as I can tell, this is an ex-controversy.

Bryan Garner agrees (Garner's Modern American Usage, 2009):

Four points about this word. First, it was widely condemned from the 1960s to the 1980s. [...]

Second, whatever the merits of those arguments, the battle is now over. Hopefully is now a part of AmE, [...]

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 senses if you're concerned with your credibility: if you use it in the traditional way, many readers will think it odd; if you use in the newish way, a few readers will tacitly tut-tut you.

Update — readers may appreciate the New Yorker's 3/27/1965 sniff, which anticipates Garner by 40-odd years in suggesting that "It is all over the place and has, we suspect, come into the language":

If this was genuinely the writer's first encounter with "'hopefully' used to mean something it doesn't mean", he didn't read Whitney Balliett's "Musical Events" item in The New Yorker of 8/17/1963, which began:

The crucial phrase:

Regrettably, the banks and tributaries of the mainstream are (to hopefully exhaust the metaphor) strewn with wreckage — musicians who have sunk or run aground or been carried up side streams, because of navigational errors or because of the winds of fashion.

Share:



50 Comments »

  1. Matthew Wright said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 3:03 am

    If challenged, I pretend that hopefully in this sense is a corruption of an imaginary dialect expression 'hoped-for-ly'.

  2. Faldone said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 5:48 am

    The line, "I never touch the stuff, myself, and never will," Ms Schine used in her reluctant acceptance of "hopefully" as a sentence adverb made me picture someone preaching against alcohol by saying something like "Bourbon? Never touch the stuff," while sipping at a glass of rye whiskey.

  3. Andy Averill said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 7:37 am

    I agree with the conclusion that it's skunked. But for me, it's not so much the peevers who killed it as the spike in Mark's graph from 1960 to 1980. Whatever juice it may once have had has long since been squeezed out.

  4. The Ridger said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 8:20 am

    Skunked? Frankly, anybody who turns up their nose at it in my writing isn't someone I want to go out of my way to appease. Fortunately, even Garner says it's only "a few".

  5. languagehat said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 8:31 am

    Bryan Garner should not be taken seriously (and it is very unfortunate that the otherwise excellent Chicago Manual of Style has outsourced its grammar section to him, a rare step backward into ignorance and prejudice). Like David Foster Wallace, he is able to cloak his random preferences and dislikes in convincing rhetoric and bedazzle readers who (not, of course, having taken any linguistics courses) have no actual facts to go on and are easily suckered by fancy footwork. When all his efforts to hold back the tide over the years have clearly failed and he is forced to admit defeat, he decrees that a term is "skunked," meaning "I clearly can't get people to use it the way I prefer but I still hate it, so STOP USING IT ALTOGETHER, DAMMIT." I don't understand why the man has so much clout in the language biz, but I wish he weren't given authority in these more knowledgeable precincts.

    [(myl) I feel that this is unfair to Garner. The quoted discussion of hopefully strikes me as temperate and mostly accurate. The fact that he has changed his mind about this word in the face of the evidence seems to be a positive rather than a negative thing. And the concept of a word or phrase being "skunked" is a plausible one, it seems to me -- it's essentially the advice that I gave in "Begging the question: We have answers", 4/29/2010. I happen to disagree with the application of this concept in the case of hopefully, but the conclusion in such cases depends on the weight given to various factors about which reasonable people can disagree.]

  6. Henry Clay said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 9:12 am

    I have no truck with the grammar mavens, but it strikes me that there's a significant difference between a grammar guide and the style book for a particular publication. Within the type of reporting that the AP specializes in, the word "hopefully" is generally a sign of editorial commentary, something that the AP in theory strives to avoid.

    It may be a "zombie rule" in the world at large, but it's perfectly reasonable for the AP to insist if there's any hoping going on, its journalists should be explicit in reporting who exactly is hopeful. Hopefully, the AP will restrict the word's use to opinion pieces.

  7. David L said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 11:01 am

    E.B. White regretted that sex was among the 1960s innovations that are now here to stay? Although if extreme language peevers refused to reproduce, their kind would die out. Hopefully.

  8. Arnold Zwicky said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 11:02 am

    Pretty much all the thoughtful linguabloggers have taken up the topic of sentence-adverbial hopefully within the past year or so. My stab at it is here.

  9. Adrian said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 11:28 am

    languagehat is OTT in his criticism of Garner. Okay, Garner's views do sometimes seem somewhat arbitrary, but in general his views are reasonable and cut a sensible path in helping readers to make sensible choices. It's ridiculous to complain about Garner giving skunked status to certain words and phrases; it's clearly the case that many people object to the word under discussion, thereby making it difficult to use.

  10. languagehat said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 12:39 pm

    Okay, Garner's views do sometimes seem somewhat arbitrary, but in general his views are reasonable and cut a sensible path in helping readers to make sensible choices.

    So you say, and I'm sure he'd agree. I don't.

    It's ridiculous to complain about Garner giving skunked status to certain words and phrases

    So you say; I say the whole idea of "skunked status" is ridiculous. Reasonable people will have to decide for themselves.

  11. Faldone said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

    You don't like it, so it should be banned? Well, I do like it, so it should be required.

  12. Stephen C. Carlson said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 1:09 pm

    "But the reasons given . . . were clearly rationalizations of an emotional reaction to a change in relative frequency, rather than credible grammatical or even stylistic objections."

    This statement is so good, I just had to excerpt and repeat it in the comments.

  13. Richard Hershberger said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

    Regarding the word's supposedly skunked status, that assertion that "if you use it in the traditional way, many readers will think it odd" is a traditional prescriptivist talking point, and entirely without supporting evidence. Of course if they granted that evidence could possibly be relevant to the discussion, their game would be pretty much up. Would any, much less many, find something like "Bobby eyed the package hopefully" odd? Show me some evidence.

    As for why Garner's high status, I think it is due to his tone. He largely repeats the usual talking points, but he largely (though not always) avoids the more vulgar abusiveness traditionally associated with the genre. (See anything by Robert Hartwell Fiske to see the tradition is still going strong.) The front matter to his usage dictionary (at least the first edition: I wouldn't know about the later editions) is a model of sweet reason, though ignored in the actual body. Add to this his credential of being the former editor of Black's Law Dictionary, which seems relevant so long as you don't think about it, and you have the appearance of being the thinking person's prescriptivist.

  14. Michael Briggs said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 1:39 pm

    Regretfully, I'll go along. O tempora . . .

  15. SmR said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 2:29 pm

    @ David L: I noticed the same thing, but your comment was much better than anything I would have come up with. Tip of my hat to you, sir.

  16. Viseguy said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

    As I pointed out in a comment to the Haberman piece, the Times seems to tolerate "hopefully" as a sentence modifier in its blog sections, but not (usually) elsewhere in the newspaper. The headline examples cited in the post are all from the blogs.

  17. jamessal said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 3:45 pm

    The front matter to his usage dictionary (at least the first edition: I wouldn't know about the later editions) is a model of sweet reason, though ignored in the actual body.

    Richard, we generally see eye to eye on matters pre- and descriptivist, so I'm kind of shocked to read your description of Garner's front matter. Those essays are in fact tendentious and poorly reasoned, and Garner's hatred of linguists (not to mention his blindness to damn near everything wrong with his own ilk) is covered by such a thin veneer of supposed neutrality that I'm surprised anyone smart enough to think for themselves — let alone a reader as sophisticated as yourself — would fail to see through it.

  18. jamessal said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

    It's ridiculous to complain about Garner giving skunked status to certain words and phrases

    The words Garner tags "skunked" are the words that have proved so useful over the past half century that they flourished in the face endless prescriptivist browbeating. That is, these are the words that prescriptivists — Garner included — have been THE MOST WRONG ABOUT. So no, it really isn't ridiculous to complain about Garner giving skunked status to certain words and phrases; it's regarding these words and phrases that his paper-thin pose of neutrality is most galling.

  19. jamessal said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 4:22 pm

    languagehat is OTT in his criticism of Garner.

    Not at all. More people should be shouting about his pernicious influence on Chicago. It's as enraging as it is baffling.

  20. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 4:33 pm

    "But the reasons given — that hopefully was a hack translation from German hoffentlich, which was Follett's objection, or that adjectival hopeful could not be used as a sentence modifier with the same meaning, or that sentence-initial hopefully was meaningless stalling for compositional time — were clearly rationalizations of an emotional reaction to a change in relative frequency, rather than credible grammatical or even stylistic objections."

    I think this is open to some doubt. Since hopefully was available all that time, why was to be hoped that so much more popular, as seen in this ngram? (Which says, to my astonishment, that hopefully the didn't pass to be hoped that the in books till about 2004.) Maybe people really did have some unarticulated objection(s) to it, maybe included in those objections articulated later. In particular, the objection may have been that the connection to the meaning of hopeful was strange. I don't know how you'd prove it either way, though.

  21. Jon Weinberg said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

    Garner and Scalia have co-authored a new book called Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts, to be released in a couple of days. This will roll together two whole worlds of things to disagree with into a single volume.

  22. Jeremy Wheeler said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 5:36 pm

    language hat might well be right about Bryan Garner’s personal prejudices affecting his advice but in terms of the tone of his criticism he might better have taken note of his own admonition, addressed to Mark Liberman back in 2008: "I think you should be less cavalier in mocking people whose ideas about language (like those of almost everyone not trained in linguistics) are mistaken."

    For a lesson in gentlemanly disagreement see here: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/bal-defending-bryan-garner-20120527,0,2898638.story

  23. jamessal said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 6:13 pm

    language hat might well be right about Bryan Garner’s personal prejudices affecting his advice but in terms of the tone of his criticism he might better have taken note of his own admonition, addressed to Mark Liberman back in 2008: "I think you should be less cavalier in mocking people whose ideas about language (like those of almost everyone not trained in linguistics) are mistaken."

    Do you really not see the difference in a professional, well respected linguist mocking lay people who've come to read his blog and someone using an aggressive tone in a blog comment criticizing a highly influential author?

    For a lesson in gentlemanly disagreement see here: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/bal-defending-bryan-garner-20120527,0,2898638.story

    He may be gentlemanly, but he's also wrong.

  24. MJ said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 8:12 pm

    Mary Elizabeth Williams's piece is just gross.

  25. Jeremy Wheeler said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 12:43 am

    "Do you really not see the difference in a professional, well respected linguist mocking lay people who've come to read his blog and someone using an aggressive tone in a blog comment criticizing a highly influential author?"

    Yes, I do see a difference. The admonition in question, however, followed a criticism of Louis Menand, and not a lay person come to read the blog. Clearly language hat believes his prejudices trump those of everyone else. The rest of the quote is:

    "Menand is a brilliant critic and a fine writer; it is not his fault that the American educational system has failed him in this regard."

    That's all right, then…

  26. Evan Morris said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 1:23 am

    True story: My father, William Morris, was Ed.-in-Chief of the first edition of the AHD and came up with the usage panel. After the AHD was published, American Heritage unceremoniously let him go, and from then on, in the 1970s and 80s, he produced books with my mother, Mary D. Morris. One of these was The Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage, which featured comments on controversial usage questions from another, somewhat more eclectic, usage panel made up of writers, editors, etc., whose opinions ranged from the reasonable to the frothing nutjob end of the spectrum.

    One of the Usage Panel members at the latter end was the novelist Jean Stafford. Weighing in on the sentence-adverb "hopefully," she let it be known that she had posted a sign on the door of her home reading "The word 'hopefully' must not be misused on these premises. Violators will be humiliated." She was apparently serious.

    Some years later I became acquainted with Steve Kelly, son of the late Walt of Pogo fame. He told a story of the dinner after his father's funeral, at which all sorts of famous folk were present, including Stafford. Unfortunately, in the course of conversation, he employed "hopefully" in the forbidden fashion within earshot of Stafford, and she proceeded to loudly and angrily excoriate him in front of his father's friends on the day of his father's funeral, humiliating him over this absurd "error."

    Truly sociopathic.

  27. Charly said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 3:00 am

    Too young to even know this was a shibboleth. It appears in my chat records frequently.

  28. Adam said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 3:44 am

    @ Matthew Wright, corruption of an imaginary dialect expression 'hoped-for-ly'

    Great idea for an eggcorn!

    (random comment) If this is "the H-word", is saying it in front of someone it offends "dropping an H-bomb"?

    @languagehat

    I don't know why anyone would describe the CMOS as "otherwise excellent"; that piece of coprolite is probably the main reason the stupid transposition of punctuation around quotation marks still persists in American publishing and education.

  29. Sandy Nicholson said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 5:05 am

    How good a proxy for sentence-adverbial hopefully is hopefully the? I don’t doubt that Mark has thought about it carefully, but isn’t there reasonable scope for false positives, such as “Hopefully, the rabbit stepped out into the road” or “Hopefully, the physicists restarted the particle accelerator”?

    Interestingly, though, in both of my examples (neither found in the wild, to my knowledge), I find it quite hard not to think of hopefully as a sentence adverb, despite the potential alternative reading. In fact, I’d almost go as far as to suggest that sentence-initial hopefully is invariably a sentence adverb (at least in my idiolect). The peevers would probably rather see the word disappear, when it hardly ever works the way they think it should.

  30. Richard Hershberger said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 6:18 am

    "Richard, we generally see eye to eye on matters pre- and descriptivist, so I'm kind of shocked to read your description of Garner's front matter."

    In truth, it has been years since I read it. Perhaps I am misremembering. When I find the time, I will dig out my copy and take another look. My recollection was being struck by the contrast between how the front matter claimed to take many factors into account, with traditional usage advice just one among many factors, and how the actual body ended up reliably giving the party line. My thought at the time was that had Garner actually performed as he claimed, he might have actually produced a book suitable for thoughtful persons with a prescriptivist bent. As it was, all he produced was more of the same, but without intellectual honesty to be open about what he was doing.

  31. languagehat said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 12:58 pm

    I don't know why anyone would describe the CMOS as "otherwise excellent"; that piece of coprolite is probably the main reason the stupid transposition of punctuation around quotation marks still persists in American publishing and education.

    I, as a professional copyeditor, use it daily and thus am in a position to judge its qualities. You apparently know it only as a volume whose style guidelines you don't happen to like. It is just as logical to talk about " the stupid transposition of punctuation around quotation marks" in American publishing as it would be to talk about the same in UK publishing, or to rant about stupid misspellings like honour and centre. In other words, the opposite of logical.

  32. jamessal said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 1:09 pm

    Yes, I do see a difference. The admonition in question, however, followed a criticism of Louis Menand, and not a lay person come to read the blog.

    You'd think someone so concerned with gentlemanly disagreement would at least apologize for failing to provide the proper context for his own argument before taking it up again sarcastically and then tossing in ad hominem attack for good measure — "Clearly language hat believes his prejudices trump those of everyone else" — but next time I'll know not to be surprised. Just remember it was a foolish consistency that Emerson railed against; some consistency is necessary to avoid looking silly.

  33. jamessal said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 1:21 pm

    When I find the time, I will dig out my copy and take another look.

    Please let me know what you think when you do. If it's not worse than you remember, then we can have some real fun getting into it!

  34. jamessal said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 1:28 pm

    “Hopefully, the rabbit stepped out into the road” or “Hopefully, the physicists restarted the particle accelerator”?

    Of course, in most cases the factor prescriptivists diligently ignore — context — would clear up any ambiguity in these sentences; and if it didn't, the fault would lie with the writer or speaker rather than the word itself.

  35. jamessal said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

    Some years later I became acquainted with Steve Kelly, son of the late Walt of Pogo fame. He told a story of the dinner after his father's funeral, at which all sorts of famous folk were present, including Stafford. Unfortunately, in the course of conversation, he employed "hopefully" in the forbidden fashion within earshot of Stafford, and she proceeded to loudly and angrily excoriate him in front of his father's friends on the day of his father's funeral, humiliating him over this absurd "error."

    Truly sociopathic.

    That's a shame. An old family friend — I never met her myself — Stafford could also be sweet and generous; but it's true, she was nuts when it came to language. Jim Quinn scored some hilarious points off her in his book American Tongue and Cheek. It's true about that sign, too — it was there — though my uncle has told me that she didn't actually enforce it, for whatever that's worth. The New Yorker made a good podcast reading and discussion about one of her short stories, "Children are Bored on Sunday"; apparently Lowell hated it (the story) — accused her of selling out to get into the magazine.

  36. Rube said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

    @jamessal

    It's good to hear that Stafford could be sweet and generous. From everything else I'd read about her, I could never understand how she was happily married to an amiable guy like Joe Liebling.

  37. Sandy Nicholson said,

    May 29, 2012 @ 5:42 am

    @jamessal: Of course context would (in any but the most hopelessly confused writing or speech) disambiguate between the potential meanings of sentences like “Hopefully, the rabbit stepped out into the road”. However, (a) I suspect that these are almost always sentence adverbs anyway, and (b) my comment was mainly about Mark’s methodology. From what he writes, he used hopefully the bigrams (without other contextual filtering) as a proxy for sentence-adverbial uses of hopefully. But such cases could (my suspicions notwithstanding) actually be attributions of hopefulness to the subject. I just wondered whether Mark had a better handle than I have of the number of false positives that his proxy is likely to have thrown up.

  38. Grammar | Sherry Chandler said,

    May 29, 2012 @ 6:22 am

    [...] over at the Language Log, Mark Liberman treats us to a hopeful history of "hopefully", which was recently approved for use as a sentence adverb by the AP Style Guide to catcalls from [...]

  39. Brian said,

    May 29, 2012 @ 8:12 am

    "But as far as I can tell, this is an ex-controversy." No, it's probably just pining for the fjords.

  40. Adam said,

    May 29, 2012 @ 10:40 am

    @languagehat

    Sorry, I didn't know you were a copy-editor; I'm sure you're one of the good ones. (For the avoidance of doubt, I'm not being sarcastic.)

    But transposing punctuation the way American style manuals instruct is wrong, because — as Pullum explained (with a bit of drama) in his essay "Punctuation and Human Freedom" — it falsifies quotations. The sooner that standard is changed, the better.

    (Spelling in English is a complete mess, anyway, but I agree that British spelling is a bigger mess than American.)

  41. jamessal said,

    May 29, 2012 @ 2:26 pm

    @Sandy: I wasn't taking issue with your comment, just adding an observation. Sorry if that wasn't clear.

  42. Jeremy Wheeler said,

    May 29, 2012 @ 6:19 pm

    @ Jamessal
    -tossing in ad hominem attack for good measure — "Clearly language hat believes his prejudices trump those of everyone else" –

    Ad hominem? Surely not… at least, no more ad hominem than language hat's own style: e.g. from august 2008, addressed not to "a highly influential author" but to a lay person commenting on a blog: "I have some book recommendations, but I suspect you'd rather go on lashing out at whatever doesn't suit your prejudices."

    I'm afraid I have no idea what you mean by "Just remember it was a foolish consistency that Emerson railed against; some consistency is necessary to avoid looking silly." Certainly people are not always consistent: you, for example, were presumably not so anti Garner when you wrote, in 2010, "I use Garner but always check it against Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage…"

  43. jamessal said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 1:00 am

    I'm afraid I have no idea what you mean by "Just remember it was a foolish consistency that Emerson railed against; some consistency is necessary to avoid looking silly."

    Though admittedly tickled by your familiarity with my online oeuvre, I think it's time to let this one go — to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you're just having a bad week and wouldn't usually have trouble seeing the difference between the inconsistency you've evinced in this one blog thread (leaving an initial comment espousing gentlemanly disagreement, then follow-ups with sarcasm and ad hominem attacks) and the inconsistency you seem to think you've discovered in the opinion I've held, over the past two years, of the author of a thousand-page usage guide. Not that I would be embarrassed to have changed my mind about Garner, but do you really think that lone sentence you dredged up proves I have? Never mind: think what you want. For my part, I am (like I said) going to assume that you're just having a bad week — that you generally think better than you have been in this discussion.

  44. Jeremy Wheeler said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 4:08 am

    Why, thank you; both for your gracious withdrawal and for your spirited defence of language hat.

  45. ACW said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

    I'm just impressed that our host knows what's going to be in "The Yorker" in the year 2963.

    [(myl) Shhh. It was a slip. Watch out for the causality loops.]

  46. jamessal said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 1:11 am

    Why, thank you; both for your gracious withdrawal and for your spirited defence of language hat.

    You're welcome! Hopefully, our next chat won't be combative!

  47. jamessal said,

    June 2, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

    myl: I feel that this is unfair to Garner. The quoted discussion of hopefully strikes me as temperate and mostly accurate. The fact that he has changed his mind about this word in the face of the evidence seems to be a positive rather than a negative thing.

    The latest edition of Garner's usage guide is in many ways an improvement over the last one, although the new essay introducing it is just as much of an abomination as the ones that came before it. Considering his influence, I don't think Garner deserves a pat on the back each time he moves an inch in the right direction — toward accepting the validity of linguists' work, which he still willfully misunderstands and often perverts.

    And the concept of a word or phrase being "skunked" is a plausible one, it seems to me — it's essentially the advice that I gave

    Apples and oranges. You haven't written essay after essay portraying prescriptivists as the noble stewards and protectorates of all communication in the English speaking world, only to then fall back and disinterestedly assess an ugly situation as though neither he nor his cohorts were in any way responsible. Garner could write both the front matter to his usage guide and the entries labeled "skunked" only if 1) he's a charlatan, 2) his thoughts are too inchoate for him to responsibly dispense as much advice as he has, or 3) he thinks the fault for these troublesome words lies not with him and his heroes but with the stupid native speakers who should have spoken and written as they'd be told. The second interpretation would be the kindest, but they're all reprehensible.

  48. OUPblog » Blog Archive » Monthly etymology gleanings for June 2012 said,

    June 27, 2012 @ 7:28 am

    [...] Internet resources. Therefore, I was well aware of the conflicting opinions about this word, but word columnists and bloggers receive the same questions year in, year out, and nowadays the use of hopefully is [...]

  49. The H-Word | Ellen Barber said,

    March 24, 2013 @ 5:34 pm

    [...] here's more on 'hopefully' from Mark Liberman over at Language Log. This entry was posted in Uncategorized on March 24, 2013 [...]

  50. AP’s Approval of ‘Hopefully’ Symbolizes Larger Debate over Language | Ellen Barber said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

    [...] here's more on "hopefully" from Mark Liberman over at Language Log. This entry was posted in Uncategorized on May 26, 2013 [...]

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Comment