A debate on 'hopefully'


First aired on Q (29/5/12)

When the Associated Press's new 2012 Stylebook came out this week, the word "hopefully" (as in "it is hoped") was included for the first time. This is big news because for the past 400 years, "hopefully" has been recognized solely as an adverb that meant "in a hopeful manner." Now the AP is recognizing it as a sentence adverb, meaning "it is hoped."

Q hosted a debate on the matter with two notable grammarians. Bryan Garner, author of Garner's Modern American Usage and the editor-in-chief of Black's Law Dictionary, says he's disappointed by the new addition. "It reminds me of Webster's Third International Dictionary accepting the word 'ain't'," he said. "Not only is it compromising the integrity of the English language, it's possibly destroying the original definition of the word. "If we accept it, the traditional use of hopefully to mean 'in a hopeful manner' is most certain to die."

Patricia O'Connor. author of Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, disagrees. She's thrilled by the AP's legitimization of the modern use of "hopefully." She argues that everyday usage has rarely used "hopefully" in the traditional sense and this addition is a recognition of how people use language in contemporary times. "This is a matter of usage and not grammar," she pointed out, and she applauds AP for recognizing that. "To avoid something just because people will think you're wrong is not to have courage in your convictions."

What Garner and O'Connor can agree on, however, is that the evolution of the English language has been a strange journey, and it will continue to be as long as people keep communicating. As Garner says, "the life of a language does not follow logic."

How do you feel about the inclusion of the new definition of "hopefully" in AP's new stylebook? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments below.

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