I am a freelancer in the publishing industry, so words are very important to me. I'm a leftist living in a world gone mad, so politics are very important to me. I'm an environmentalist living in a degrading world, so pick up your damn trash, get rid of your gas guzzlers, and don't touch ANWR, you self-absorbed capitalists!

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29 March 2006

Word Wednesday: Why the Dictionary is Fun to Read

If you hang around in word-obsessive circles (for example, associations of copyeditors) long enough, someone is bound to bring up the whole "hopefully" issue. You see, we all agree that "hopefully", as its parts imply, means "in a hopeful manner". So, "'May we have another bit of bread?' the urchin asked, hopefully" is correct, whereas it would be blasphemous to speak "Hopefully we'll get there before the concert starts!"

Notice a difference? No? Well, then, you just aren't paying attention. It's there, alright.

But this is one battle for which I've never felt much passion. At times I would attempt to remove "hopefully" from my conversational options, but it was always half-hearted and not worth much energy.

And perhaps because of said affiliation with wordy types, I find the following incredibly humorous. To you this usage note (found in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition) may sound extremely restrained. To me, well, imagine as you read this a small pale man in a bow tie, his shirt sleeves rolled up, his ink-stained fingers continuously pushing his sliding spectacles up the bridge of his nose.

usage: In the 1960s the second sense of hopefully [it is hoped: I hope: we hope { ~ the rain will end soon}], which dates to the early 18th century and had been in fairly widespread use since the 1930s, underwent a surge in popularity. A surge of criticism followed in reaction, but the criticism took no account of the grammar of adverbs. Hopefully in its second sense is a member of a class of adverbs known as disjuncts. Disjuncts serve as a means by which the author or speaker can comment directly to the reader or hearer usu. on the content of the sentence to which they are attached. Many other adverbs (as interestingly, frankly, clearly, luckily, unfortunately) are similarly used: most are so ordinary as to excite no comment or interest whatsoever. The second sense of hopefully is entirely standard.

Word up, brother! Punch that fist in the air! Stand up for the Common Man! Don't let those self-important Guardians of Language get away with it!

Sorry. Maybe it isn't so funny to you. But really, the dictionary is a fun read. Try it.