Edwin Newman on ‘the hopefully disease’
today at 1:52 pm
In his lively book about the English language, “A Civil Tongue,” former newsman Edwin Newman describes what he called “the hopefully disease.” Since the book’s publication in 1975, the word “hopefully” has continued to be misused so badly that I have been feeling rather lonely in supporting its proper use — to my way of thinking, it is more a stage direction than part of conversation. But now that I’ve rediscovered Newman’s examples, I hope you will enjoy them as much as I enjoyed finding them.
Newman’s characterization of “hopefully” as a disease is a clever one — we’ve all been exposed to it so often in recent years that “I hope” and “It is to be hoped” are beginning to sound stilted.
But even in the 1970s, when Newman was writing, the disease hit some people worse than others. He mentions seeing “an advertisement for a California Riesling that was ‘regretfully available only in very limited quantities.’ That is the hopefully disease spreading,” wrote Newman, “but no variation is likely to approach the majesty of the announcement by the president of the Green Bay Packers. Dominic Olejuiczak, when discussing the hiring of a new coach. ‘We hope,’ he said, ‘to have an announcement before the end of the week, hopefully before that.’ “
Maybe the disease of using words so casually helps other diseases spread. These days, it’s hard to tell. Use your words carefully, pay attention to the words of others, and stay safe.