12 August 2009

Hopefully...

I woke up this morning and thought, "I really need good ammunition against people who say that 'hopefully' can't be used to mean 'I hope'," because that's the sort of thing I tend to wake up thinking (yes, my paranoias are often about being mugged by style goons). I fired up my ol' computer machine and plugged into the intertubes and went immediately to Language Log, where I got a concise explanation of what I needed:
Speaker-oriented (or "stance") adverbial hopefully has been taking abuse pretty steadily for 30 or more years (see MWDEU). Linguists are mostly just baffled by this disparagement; see the discussion in the American Heritage Book of English Usage, where it's noted that "hopefully seems to have taken on a life of its own as a shibboleth." But the word fits right into long-standing patterns of the language -- cf. frankly in "Frankly, this soup stinks" and surprisingly in "Surprisingly, this soup is delicious" -- and it provides a way of expressing the speaker's attitude towards a proposition which is both (a) brief and (b) subordinate: "I hope that S", "I have a hope that S", "It is to be hoped that S", and the like are wordier, and have the hoping expressed in a main clause (as the apparent main assertion), while what writers want is to assert the proposition provisionally, adding a modifier expressing their attitude towards it. So speaker-oriented hopefully is a GOOD thing, and it's no surprise that it's spread so fast.
That's followed by some excellent, concise insight about very, which everybody who's been told to never use that word should read as well.

For more on hopefully and ambiguity, see this and this.

Oh, it's a good day when it begins with sane information about style and usage!

4 comments:

  1. The word I've always been a bit bemused by is "evidently." When I see the word in mathematical proofs, it always means "It is evident that..." but when I use it in casual conversation I almost always use it to mean "It seems evident that..." which is actually a fairly different use.

    (And what about "fairly"? That doesn't really mean "in a fair manner"... ah, I'm going mad!)

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  2. I woke up this morning at 4 AM because, in a dream where I was searching through a drawer for mousetraps and camping stoves, suddenly the alarms on a bunch of watches and clocks left in the drawer by my brother went off. Hopefully, I won't have that dream again.--Eric

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  3. OK, I'll give you 'hopefully.' But I want 'absolutely' abolished from the language; and it would be great if a writer/speaker, in refering to a large, significant number of things, didn't use 'countless' unless it truly is a countless number (pratically or in reality).

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  4. Yeah, I'm pretty indelicate towards fussy, unnecessary rules like the 'hopefully' one, especially since I read Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct, in which he described the speaker-oriented adverbial pretty much as you say the Language Log does.

    Another one that he debunked in a way I really liked is the no 'Me and X' rule. So, in a sentence like: 'Me and Jenny went to the market', technically you wouldn't have to say 'Jenny and I went to the market', as is common prescriptive usage, because the 'and' forms a compound subject phrase beholden only to itself. I wouldn't use it in formal language, and probably not even in written language, but I enjoy having access to such a logical argument against certain prescriptive usages.

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