William Safire defending the word ‘hopefully’ and doing it hopefully
today at 12:43 pm
I’ve been trying to assert that the word “hopefully” has become a stage direction instead of an adverb.
MARGARET (hopefully): Oh, please, readers, use this word well!
When I read “On Language” and left myself sticky bookmarks to get back to the great entries, I found that William Safire was on my side in this fight. Here are some selections from what he wrote about “hopefully.” I hope you’ll take them to heart and save a good word.
Safire wrote, “Evidently, the word ‘hopefully has become the litmus test to determine one is a language snob or a language slob.”
“Angrily, traditionalists hold that the word is an adverb, usually intended to modify a verb. In the sentence ‘He will look at me hopefully,” the verb “to look” is modified by “hopefully” to mean that the look will contain hope. Purists reject ‘Hopefully, he will look at me’ because it is confusing. Does it mean ‘with hope in his eyes’ or ‘I hope he will look at me’? They argue that when you mean to say ‘it is hoped’ or ‘I hope,’ you should come out and say those words, and not cloak your hopes in a fuzzy ‘hopefully’ that can be misinterpreted.”
The argument goes on in Safire’s pages, as it does in real life over the decades since the book’s publication. But that’s the meat of it.
Dare to hope, readers — and dare to say that you do. Even now, defend “I hope” and keep the distinction by doing things hopefully.
Got it? I hope so.
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