I read an article on Dictionary.com about the word “hopefully” and the discrepancy between its actual meaning and the meaning it has taken on in common speech. Suffice it to say that my opinions on the matter are derived more from what I see as the triviality of the apparent “controversy” that the word “hopefully” has caused, and less from my opinion on how the word “hopefully” should really be used.
The latter opinion is simple. In every day speech, I have no problem with it, especially since it is at least a word and not some slang in which we have become lazy enough to omit letters, like “‘sup” and “aight.” But in written works, the editor in me wants to point out that the word “hopefully” means and should be used to mean “in a hopeful manner,” as opposed to the commonly spoken meaning “it is hoped.”
But besides my opinion on the use of the word, what struck me was the lack of comprehension from some of the readers who left comments, the article’s references to the Washington Post, and the frivolity I see in even having such a discussion.
Perhaps I’ll begin with the Washington Post, which is quoted as having called the Associated Press “barbarians” for choosing to allow the colloquial use of “hopefully” in newspapers, and thus calling anyone who uses it a barbarian by association. This elicits a chuckle, as I find this particular usage of the word “barbarian” very loose, kind of like when people say “hopefully” when they mean “it is hoped.”
I chuckle again because several of the comments on the article show a lack of comprehension (and good grammar, I might add) when it comes to what the article is really saying. So the AP Stylebook is allowing “hopefully” to be used in its colloquial form in newspapers. And somehow this translated to some of the people who commented as “We’re finally adding hopefully to the dictionary.” Trust me, “hopefully” is already in the dictionary, along with its actual meaning.
Which brings me to the frivolity of the discussion. The article seems to have garnered several of these kinds of badly-written comments from people who didn’t quite understand the point of the article, and are coming across as angry about being called barbarians and “hopefully” not being considered a word before now… this just makes me shake my head.
And back to my opinion on adding the common use of “hopefully” to a style guide: frankly, I wouldn’t allow it in written works. I can just see other commonly misused words also being allowed, right down to my favourite bad grammar pet peeve, “literally.” But do I think we’re all barbarians for using it in common speech? Of course not… if I agreed to that, next thing you know, “barbarian” would come to mean “someone who misuses words.”