John McIntyre

Get your hopefullys up | COMMENTARY

On Sunday Bryan Garner posted a usage poll on Twitter:

The word “hopefully” in its common uses


is wholly unobjectionable (56.9%)

retains a little bad odor (43.1%)


The background on the “bad odor” is that some sticklers insist that hopefully can only mean “in a hopeful manner” and that to use it as a sentence-modifying adverb to mean “it is hoped that” is a barbarous illiteracy that deprives us of the meaning of a fine old word.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage has sussed out that hopefully as a sentence adverb was in sporadic use in American English “for some thirty years before it suddenly caught fire in the early 1960s. What is newly popular will often be disparaged, and criticism followed rapidly, starting in 1962 and reaching a high point around 1975.”

MWDEU has no quarrel with it now, because “it was censured … because it was new, and it is not new any more.”

Vogue words get disparaged, not because there is something inherently wrong about them, but because we do not much like the people who use them: young people, people in advertising or government, people in show business, members of minority groups we are not fond of.

When vogue usages are not useful, they die out. When they prove useful, no one cares about them any longer. Some of the respondents to Mr. Garner’s poll likely recall the hopefully wars of forty years ago. Some who are younger may have been conditioned to smell it by its ill-advised inclusion in The Elements of Style, where it will probably be prompting pursed lips for another generation or so.

But hopefully has done its time and returned to society, albeit on parole.

As to the objection that it will crush the older usage, I point you to sadly, which can mean “expressing sadness” and which can also be used as a sentence adverb meaning “it is deplorable that.”

In English, one usage does not usually cancel another.