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Writers and Editors (RSS feed)

Abandon Hopefully

I used to have a little sign above my office door that said "Abandon hopefully all ye who enter here," and for years I've tried not gritting my teeth when people said things like, "Hopefully it won't rain." My poor daughter grew up with this bias against using "hopefully" in the sense of "it is hoped," thinking it could only be used to mean "full of hope," as in "She looked hopefully into her lover's eyes, awaiting the marriage proposal." But recently my daughter said she's been cutting more slack on the word, because it's more and more common to use it loosely, the way we say, "Happily the day came when she could work," even though the day couldn't do anything "happily."

So it is with hope and flexibility that I read Merrill Perlman's column in the Columbia Journalism Review, Hopefully Yours: Is “full of hope” full of it?

Take the sentence "'Hopefully,' Americans have been watching the first overseas visit of President Barack Obama," which Perlman opens with. She explains: "When 'hopefully' is used to mean 'I really hope so,' it is functioning as a sentence adverb or 'disjunct,' which adds the writer’s opinion to the statement in the sentence." Those of us learning our style and grammar in the 1960s from Ted Bernstein (The Careful Writer) became know-it-alls who experienced that usage as fingernails on a blackboard, and it's been hard to relax, even though Bernstein himself, as Perlman tells us, learned to live with the now-common sense of the word.

Just be aware, if you use "hopefully" to mean "it is hoped," that there are a lot of grammar nitpickers out here to whom it will still be as fingernails on a blackboard, even if we are trying to relax about it.
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