Hopefully history

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In The H-word, I quoted MWDEU  to the effect that the sentence-adverb use of hopefully "was [traditionally] available if writers needed it, but few writers did". I also quoted MWDEU quoting Copperud 1970 to the effect that the "rapid expansion of use of hopefully as a sentence-modifier" began "about 1960", and I exhibited a Google Ngrams plot supporting this date. And I quoted Bryan Garner as saying, among other things, that "the battle is now over", and "Hopefully is now a part of AmE". I didn't quote the end of that sentence, which asserts that hopefully "has all but lost its traditional meaning".

This morning (Istanbul time), I thought I'd take a closer quantitative look at the history of hopefully, using evidence from Mark Davies' Corpus of Historical American English. The executive summary of my conclusions:

  • MWDEU was right — going back at least to the 1880s, roughly one hopefully in a hundred was the evaluative type meaning "it is hoped" or "I/we/they hope" rather than the manner-adverbial type;
  • Copperud was right — in the COHA sample from the 1940s, 2 of 182 instances of hopefully were evaluative adverbials rather than manner adverbials (1%); in the 1950s, the titre was 10 of 220 (4.5%); in the 1960s, it was 82 of 233 (35%).
  • Garner was both right and wrong. By the 2000s, 76% of COHA's instances of hopefully are evaluative, many from esteemed writers in well-edited sources. So evaluative hopefully is certainly now part of American English. But the "traditional meaning" of hopefully, "in a hopeful manner", still accounts for 24% of instances, so it's misleading to say that this usage is "all but lost".

Some 1883 examples of evaluative hopefully:

Allan Pinkerton, The Burglar's Fate And The Detectives, 1883: These facts Manning gleaned in a conversation with the proprietor of the hotel, while he was making his preparations to commence his search for the man whose crime had led him such a long chase, and whose detection now seemed hopefully imminent.

Professor W. Le Conte Stevens, "University Education for Women", North American Review, January 1883: Despite the political transgressions of the present generation, there are some subjects left in which it is hopefully possible to improve on the results left by our forefathers.

Some examples from the 1950s:

Henry A. Curran, "Happy-Marriage Week", Good Housekeeping July 1950: To put happiness on the map, even on the front page, for a whole week out of the year can not fail to achieve some good. The happiness that flourishes, unnoticed, in countless happy homes may not be news, but happiness celebrated simultaneously by millions immediately makes headlines. The forgotten man and woman, rediscovered once a year! Alone they are negligible; en masse they are news. Hopefully, Happy-Marriage Week will be unlike any of the well-worn celebrations now in existence. It will be unique in that it will sell an idea — something that is already in existence.

Hubert H. Humphrey, "A New Approach to Disarmament", The New Republic 12/24/1956: Just as the cause of disarmament may be furthered by the appointment of a neutral Chairman so might it be furthered by the creation of an impartial and objective United Nations technical staff. The reports prepared — and they should deal with legal, scientific and military questions — should be as objective as' possible. A United Nations staff should be able to consider the problems of the various nations more impartially than the staff assigned to the member delegations. It would, hopefully, help to create mutual trust and confidence among the five powers. Finally, such a staff would to a limited extent gain experience to function as an international secretariat soon after a disarmament agreement was reached.

It's worth noting that the authors using evaluative hopefully in the 1950s and 1960s were hardly all undereducated boors publishing in provincial tabloids:

John Kenneth Galbraith, "The Poverty of Nations", The Atlantic Monthly Oct. 1962:  It is upon these assumptions, many of them self-contradictory and all of them of limited applicability, that we have based remedial action. One consequence of our planning is that within the next few years men will reach the moon, and hopefully the righteous will return, but the most acute problem of this planet will remain unsolved.

Paul Goodman, "For a reactionary experiment in education", Harpers Nov 1962:  Finally, one of the more perceptive proposals for college reform would help make the others more meaningful. Instead of throwing the new student hard up against a variety of choices and courses, it is proposed to make at least the freshman year an exploration? to help the young discover who they are and find ways to realize themselves. For example, at Harvard — largely, I think, through the efforts of Professor Riesman — freshmen can register in a seminar during their first year. This is a year-long bull-session, frequently provoked by visitors from the outside, which hopefully leads to concentration on fields of interest and specific reading and reports. Instead of the standard freshman " orientation " to the college world, it stimulates the students to question the college's purposes, strengths, and weaknesses as well as his [sic] own.

Morris West, The Shoes of the Fisherman 1963:  But I do not always hear the harmony. I must wrestle with the cacophony and apparent discord of the score, knowing that I shall not hear the final grand resolution until the day I die and, hopefully, am united with God.

Susan Sontag, Death Kit, 1967:  Diddy's telegram should be delivered to the Warren Institute in less than an hour. Who will read it to Hester? Hopefully, Mrs. Nayburn won't have returned yet. Then it would be the disagreeable Gertrude who brings the telegram to Hester's room. But if it should be the crass meddling aunt who recites his declaration, so what? Diddy has nothing to hide.

Thornton Wilder, Eighth Day, 1967:  John Ashley was quite right in wishing to be under forty when his children were passing through their teens. His parents were both forty when he was ten — that is to say they were beginning to be resigned to the knowledge that life was disappointing and basically meaningless; they were busily clutching at its secondary compensations: the esteem and (hopefully) the envy of the community in so far as they can be purchased by money and acquired by circumspect behavior, by an unremitting air of perfect contentment, and by that tone of moral superiority that bores themselves and others but which is as important as wearing clothes.

John Kenneth Galbraith, Triumph, 1967:   The AID, USIA, Treasury, the Bureau of the Budget, and Agriculture came together in Worth Campbell's office to discuss a package which, hopefully, would shore up and save the Martinez regime. At five o'clock word came that the President could meet with them that evening.

Given the fact that people like John Kenneth Galbraith, Susan Sontag, and Thornton Wilder were freely using evaluativehopefully half a century ago, it shouldn't be news that this is part of standard American English.  And this history raises some questions for me about Bryan Garner's conclusion that

… 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.

I don't think that any sensible readers will "think it odd" if you write sentences like these, all from the past decade in COHA:

His brown eyes held hers and he smiled almost imperceptibly, hopefully.
Near the entrance, orange lantana sprouts hopefully from the hard-packed bare ground.
Several moments passed, during which Eliot waited hopefully for amplification.
She nodded disconsolately. "Maybe you could come along?" Her voice rose hopefully.
Then, Mandini looked at Lucas almost hopefully, as if willing to defer to an elder.
"Really?" The man's head bobbed hopefully.
Knot the yeti shuffled across the kitchen to stare hopefully at his fellow beasts.
One night in late May, when the cherry trees bloomed hopefully under the moon, she stuck her hips to his and just danced …

And if you give up a useful word because a few ignorant people will tut-tut you, the crazies win.

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35 Comments »

  1. The Ridger said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 2:26 pm

    Precisely: Garner is wrong when he claims "many" readers will find the "traditional use" of hopefully odd. His aim is to stop people using the word at all, because he doesn't like it. He prescribes hopefully, but hopefully he will fail.

  2. Joe said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

    A traditional(?) use of "hopefully" I don't get comes from Dr.Seuss's The Lorax: "Where will they go to? I don't hopefully know." I don't know if it's just me, or something that was obscure even then, but I can't figure out what "hopefully" is doing there.

  3. mollymooly said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 3:46 pm

    In choosing examples of Contested Usages by Good Writers, I don't think fiction, especially direct or free indirect speech, is as convincing as expository or advocative prose.

    It matters whether the author is affecting their own sincere voice or that of a character or persona. Those are not neatly discrete categories, of course; but for example I found the Goodman and Galbraith quotes in the OP more persuasive than the West, Sontag, or Wilder ones. Just because John Ashley uses "hopefully" doesn't prove Thornton Wilder does.

    Not that I disagree with any of the points made…

  4. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 4:03 pm

    "Hopefully" is the opposite of skunked; you can use it in either sense. Maybe we can call it "raccooned" since it's so versatile.

    Follett says sentence-adverb "thankfully" came in at the same time as "hopefully", though at COHA it doesn't take off till the '90s. (I couldn't think of a way to search for it at Google ngrams because "thankfully the" occurs too often in "I acknowledge thankfully the…" and similar formulas.) The obvious alternatives, "thank God" or "fortunately" and "it is to be hoped", have been decreasing steadily since well into the 19th century, according to this Google ngram. I wonder whether there's a point where "it is to be hoped" sounded old-fashioned and "thank God" sounded too religious and people decided to switch to "hopefully" and "thankfully". But what was wrong with "fortunately"?

    (And why does "thank God" have big jumps in 1861 and 1941—but not, contrary to my first thought, in 1917?)

  5. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 4:10 pm

    @Joe: That does strike me as very odd, and is probably partly for the meter and rhyme. (As you can see here, there's no "to" after "Where will they go?") I think the idea is that if the Lorax knew where his Swomee-Swans would go, he would feel hopeful for them, so he would know in a hopeful manner. But he doesn't.

  6. Adrian said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 4:17 pm

    @The Ridger: proscribes?

  7. Martin O'Leary said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 4:34 pm

    I don't know if it's that I've been primed by reading the rest of the post, but I definitely find something slightly off about the examples of traditional use given. I imagine in speech the intonation would be different, but my natural inclination is to read "hopefully" as introducing a clause, e.g. "Knot the yeti shuffled across the kitchen to stare, hopefully at his fellow beasts.", with the italicised clause indicating a hope of the speaker, rather than a property of the act of staring.

  8. The Ridger said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 4:45 pm

    @Adrian: Yes.

  9. erik f said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

    I think the Lorax can be read as saying "I don't know where they are going, but I have some hope that they will be OK."

  10. Viseguy said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

    @Joe, re "I don't hopefully know": I read it to mean something like, "I'm not confident that anything I say about it would be true."

  11. bloix said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 6:17 pm

    "Garner is wrong when he claims "many" readers will find the "traditional use" of hopefully odd. His aim is to stop people using the word at all, because he doesn't like it. He prescribes hopefully, but hopefully he will fail."

    Garner's professional specialization is advising lawyers how to write for judges. Judges are perhaps the most conservative, curmudgeonly, irrationally biased audience any writer can have. it's crucial when writing for judges that the writing does not distract from the argument. If that means avoiding certain words that other writers can use freely – well, that's what it means.

    For example, I freely split infinitives in most contexts, but i never do when I'm writing a brief.

  12. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 27, 2012 @ 7:33 pm

    I largely agree with bloix (and I myself will often edit out split infinitives from my first-draft prose in a document intended to be filed in court when I wouldn't otherwise bother), except that Garner writes usage advise both for a specifically legal audience and for a more general audience. The quote in question seems to be in a book intended for a more general audience, so I would consider it a failure on Garner's point if he carried over the same approach w/o modification.

    Horror story about judges and usage advice: I have or had somewhere in my office an actual copy of the dreaded Strunk & White which I had been given as a result of my admission about a decade back to the bar of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit (which hears appeals from the federal courts in Ala./Fla./Ga.). Some judge(s) and or staffer(s) had apparently had the bright idea that giving out free copies of Elements of Style to everyone admitted to practice before the court would improve the quality of briefing (and I think there was a cover letter commending reliance on its wisdom . . .). I know, I know . . .

  13. Adam said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 3:47 am

    @ Jerry Friedman
    "Hopefully" is the opposite of skunked; you can use it in either sense. Maybe we can call it "raccooned" since it's so versatile.

    I like that. And people who use it in the "new" sense are badgered.

  14. Gav said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 4:09 am

    To travel (hopefully) is a better thing than to arrive.

  15. Mark Etherton said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 4:12 am

    Bryan Garner is quoted as saying that "Hopefully is now a part of AmE" Does this mean that he thinks it is not used in the same ways in BrE? If so, he is in for a disagreeable surprise.

  16. Richard Hershberger said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 6:36 am

    "the "traditional meaning" of hopefully, "in a hopeful manner", still accounts for 24% of instances, so it's misleading to say that this usage is "all but lost"."

    Let us not mince words. It is not "misleading" to make this claim. It is a falsehood. This leaves us the mildly interesting question of whether Garner is an incompetent, a liar, or a bullshitter. My guess is the last. It is a fundamental characteristic of the genre that factual claims are made without regard to their truthfulness. I doubt that it would ever occur to him to check whether or not this particular factual claim is actually true. But it doesn't really matter. The important point is that Garner is untrustworthy.

  17. Richard Hershberger said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 6:38 am

    Like several of the previous commenters, I consciously write differently when writing for a court. The style is much worse than my non-legal writing, and I pay attention to bogus rules which (er…, that?) I otherwise ignore.

  18. lukys said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 7:01 am

    Of course, Lojban has had this as a feature since the beginning, with it's system of attitudinals, that can go at the beginning of a sentence to indicate the speakers emotion about the whole thing, and in any other place, modifying the previous unit, or just on its own to announce simply, "I hope".
    I like the sentence-modifying kind of "hopefully", since it mirrors this usage.

  19. Jon Weinberg said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 8:31 am

    This thread is notable for the number of regular commenters outing themselves as lawyers (like Garner, and, well, me).

  20. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 11:03 am

    @MYL: Did this survey confirm the results of your smaller sample in 2008, namely that the majority of uses of "manner" hopefully were in fiction and the majority of those were in quotatives?

    @Mark Etherton: Bryan Garner is quoted as saying that "Hopefully is now a part of AmE" Does this mean that he thinks it is not used in the same ways in BrE?

    I took it to mean merely that he's not commenting on English anywhere else.

    @Adam: :-)

  21. languagehat said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 1:00 pm

    Garner's professional specialization is advising lawyers how to write for judges. Judges are perhaps the most conservative, curmudgeonly, irrationally biased audience any writer can have. it's crucial when writing for judges that the writing does not distract from the argument. If that means avoiding certain words that other writers can use freely – well, that's what it means.

    He can say whatever he wants when advising lawyers how to write for judges; I presume he knows what he's talking about there. When he issues dicta about language to non-lawyers, he's just another ignorant blowhard.

  22. Rod Johnson said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 1:44 pm

    @lukys: Of course, Lojban has had this as a feature since the beginning

    Is this different from natural language somehow? I thought the whole argument is whether hopefully belongs to the uncontroversial class of sentence adverbials (fortunately, charmingly, interestingly, (more) importantly, alarmingly, happily, dishearteningly…). Like modality and evidentiality, this is more or less grammaticalized from one language to another.

  23. Chad Nilep said,

    May 28, 2012 @ 7:40 pm

    Wow, what's with all the Garner rage? Is he just a convenient representative of the whole usage-advice industry? Do commenters have a sense that they can affect (what they perceive as) his errors? Did he kick a whole lot of people's cats?

    I find Garner's usage advice, while maybe not exemplary of empirically informed analysis, at least well-intended and often helpful description of high-prestige usage. I admit I don't own any of his books nor closely follow his work, but neither do I find him the sort of ill-informed, prejudiced blow-hard that some of these comments make him out to be.

  24. maidhc said,

    May 29, 2012 @ 3:06 am

    Rod Johnson's discussion of sentence adverbials caused me to reflect that his examples might be replaced by "It is fortunate that", "It is charming that", etc. Following that pattern, "It is hoped that" would lead us to "hopedly". It sounds to me like a word that might have been used in the 19th century, but it doesn't appear in the OED. But if enough people started writing letters and posting comments about "using hopefully when you mean hopedly", you might get it into use, just to confuse the issue even further.

  25. languagehat said,

    May 29, 2012 @ 7:48 am

    Wow, what's with all the Garner rage? Is he just a convenient representative of the whole usage-advice industry?

    To some extent. In other words, if he were a marginal figure read by a few fellow cranks, I'd chuckle and move on. But he's not; he affects millions of people not only through his own books but now through the deservedly prestigious Chicago Manual, which fills me with loathing and despair.

    I find Garner's usage advice, while maybe not exemplary of empirically informed analysis, at least well-intended and often helpful description of high-prestige usage. I admit I don't own any of his books nor closely follow his work, but neither do I find him the sort of ill-informed, prejudiced blow-hard that some of these comments make him out to be.

    Well, of course it's "well-intended"; so was eugenics, back in the day. That doesn't make it right. And yes, it can be a helpful description of high-prestige usage, if that's what you're looking for. But he doesn't present it as that, he presents it as how anyone should write; the usages he deprecates are treated as wrong, not just unsuitable for high-flown occasions.

    To some extent, I'm channeling my inner Pullum; I don't hate the man, I'm sure he's a fine fellow, and he is, after all, just calling 'em as he sees 'em. What I hate is the mass ignorance, even among the educated, of the most basic facts about language, ignorance which allows such advice to be proffered and consumed unquestioned, as doctors used to prescribe bleeding and patients used to demand it. I take it out on Garner because you can't mash a cream pie in the face of mass ignorance. I wish the man no harm, I just wish he'd stick to his lawyering and stop filling people's heads with useless shibboleths.

  26. Henning Makholm said,

    May 29, 2012 @ 8:15 am

    @languagehat: "But he doesn't present it as that, he presents it as how anyone should write; the usages he deprecates are treated as wrong, not just unsuitable for high-flown occasions."

    This characterization of his advice is flatly contradicted by the quote from the man himself in the previous post. He advises avoiding "hopefully", but also in the same breath says that the word "is now a part of AmE". That's very far from "treating it as wrong".

    I also get the impression (without investigating it further) that he's using "skunked" as a technical term meaning roughly "a perfectly good word that unfortunately you cannot use without risking diverting the the reader's attention from the point you're trying to make to your linguistic choices".

    The quote from hims simply doesn't make sense as prescriptivist bullshitting (no prescriptivist bullshitter would ever say that a usage he's advising against is "part of" the language), but it makes excellent sense as a helpful description of high-prestige usage. It doesn't have to be explicitly "presented as that", when that's what it plainly and evidently is.

  27. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 29, 2012 @ 9:30 am

    @Henning Makholm: Garner uses "skunked" for words that are gaining a new sense and losing an old one, when there's a stage when the new sense sounds "illiterate" to some and the old sense sounds odd or is incomprehensible to others. He cites hopefully as "a good case in point" here.
    Other examples are "data, decimate, effete, enormity, fulsome, impassionate, intrigue, & transpire".

    I think he's wrong about "hopefully"—some small and decreasing number of people object to the sentence-adverb sense, but I think almost everyone understands the manner-adverb sense. I think he's probably right about decimate, enormity,, and fulsome (the old sense being "excessive, cloying"). For some of the others, I doubt that a significant number of people object to the new senses. The problem he sees with data is not semantic but syntactic: is it singular or plural?

    By the way, as you'll see at that link, Garner cites a 1968 article by Edward A. Stephenson for the idea of "skunked", though not the term.

  28. Nathan said,

    May 29, 2012 @ 11:53 am

    IMNSHO, data is no longer a good example of a skunked word. For all but the half dozen literate Westerners without Internet access, data is an unremarkable mass noun.

  29. Ralph Hickok said,

    May 29, 2012 @ 3:34 pm

    @Nathan:
    As always, so much depends on who's using the word and who's hearing or reading it.

    I'm a part-time copyeditor for a physics journal, and our stylebook calls for "data" to take a plural verb. In about a year and a half at the job, I've never had to change the verb, because it seems that all (or almost all) physicists treat "data" as a plural without even thinking about it.

  30. trisha scott said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 9:31 am

    To travel, hopefully, is a better thing than to arrive.

  31. John Cowan said,

    May 30, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

    Adrian: Well, not exactly. When Garner proscribes hopefully, he is prescribing hopefully (i.e. with hope), just as the Ridger says. Undoubtedly, and not merely hopefully, he will fail.

  32. Jeremy Wheeler said,

    May 31, 2012 @ 5:29 am

    Whatever Garner might say in his own usage guide he has this to say in the CMOS: "hopefully. The old meaning of the word (“in a hopeful manner”) seems unsustainable; the newer meaning (“I hope” or “it is to be hoped”) seems here to stay. But many careful writers deplore the new meaning."

    We could argue all day about what precisely he means by "seems unsustainable", "many", and "careful writers" but he hardly seems to be setting out to condemn the "newer" meaning, nor does he use the term "skunked" in the CMOS. I certainly can't see how this comment supports the notion that he is saying "I don't like it so don't use it all."

    Bearing in mind that the CMOS is almost by definition a guide for standard or prestige writing the tone of Garner's section in it seems to me fairly tame.

  33. Mr Punch said,

    May 31, 2012 @ 6:23 pm

    I note that the American writers cited for using the evaluative "hopefully" include one of Canadian origin (Galbraith) and an Australian (West) who lived in the US for a few years.

  34. Juan Mata said,

    June 7, 2012 @ 12:23 pm

    Wow, what's with all the Garner rage? Is he just a convenient representative of the whole usage-advice industry? Do commenters have a sense that they can affect (what they perceive as) his errors? Did he kick a whole lot of people's cats?

  35. Jannat 2 said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 1:19 pm

    I note that the American writers cited for using the evaluative "hopefully" include one of Canadian origin (Galbraith) and an Australian (West) who lived in the US for a few years.

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