Snobservation #8

June: I noticed that you ended your column by using the adverb "hopefully" as a substitute for "I hope that" or "It is hoped that." I know you know better than to use substandard English. — Steve

Funny word "substandard." It lets you suggest something is wrong without actually saying so.  Of course, you can't say that "hopefully" as a sentence adverb is wrong because, well, it's not:

hopefully adverb: 1. in a hopeful manner, 2. it is to be hoped (that): 'to leave early, hopefully by noon.'

That was from Webster's New World College Dictionary. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage gives more background, saying that the sentence-modifying "hopefully" surged in popularity in the 1960s and the anti-hopefully position was a backlash. "What is newly popular will often be disparaged. ... Many commentators now accept the usage, but it seems safe to predict that there will be some who continue to revile it well into the next century. You can use it if you need it, or avoid it if you do not like it. There never was anything really wrong with it."

So I'll admit that my usage was "substandard" to whatever extent a guy named Steve in La Crescenta, California, sets our standards. But that doesn't say much.

2 Responses to “Snobservation #8”

  1. More "hopefully" crap: I really can't stand this word; not because of grammar, but stylistically. It's just really flabby and certainly cliched. Imagine a police chief interviewed on TV, saying "Hopefully, we'll make an arrest soon." Does he mean he hopes he'll make an arrest soon? That goes without saying, right? But if he says "I hope we make an arrest soon," he sounds incompetent and guilty of wishful thinking. So what the hell does he mean? Nothing really. He uses "hopefully" only to hedge his bet, because he really doesn't know whether he'll make an arrest soon or not. This applies, I'm pretty sure, every time "hopefully" is used in every context.

  2. Sorry it took so long to get your comment up. You make a really good point. But I think a lot of words and especially sentence adverbs work like that. "Frankly" and "truthfully" come immediately to mind as words with slippery meaning or having a subtly different connotation. I never thought about it and now I will!