Author Topic: Use of “hopefully” and other grammar bugbears  (Read 9757 times)

Joe Carillo

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Use of “hopefully” and other grammar bugbears
« on: May 30, 2019, 07:32:45 AM »
I’d like to write today about three English grammar bugbears—“hopefully,” “momentarily,” and “overly”—in the hope of helping finally put to rest strong reservations against their usage.

Let’s begin with the adverb “overly.” Sometime in 2010, a Filipina journalist-friend based in Hong Kong e-mailed me that, recalling something grammar maven William Safire had written, she felt vaguely that my use of “overly” was “anomalous” in this passage of my column in The Manila Times:

“In keeping with the spirit of the New Year, I thought we should be more forgiving of the overly exuberant figurative language of the print and broadcast media these past several days. But I think levity in journalistic language shouldn’t be pursued to the point of insensitivity and callousness, like what was done by a major Metro Manila broadsheet last January 31 when it reported that owing to the full moon, Mayon Volcano might extend the ‘courtesy’ of ‘natural loud bangs and fireworks display’ to the Albayanons as they welcomed the New Year.”

                                                IMAGE CREDIT: ADAPTED FROM EATYOURCAREER.COM


I replied that my usage of “overly” in that tart critique wasn’t anomalous: “It’s a proper, perfectly grammatical adverb that means “to an excessive degree”… I have not heard anyone, whether layman or linguist, quibble against the propriety of its usage. I’m not sure either if the late William Safire had ever considered “overly” anomalous; what I know is that he fiercely opposed the use the adverbs ‘hopefully’ and ‘momentarily.’”

This puts the adverb “momentarily” right before us. Safire did have such a strong beef against it, as when a flight attendant uses it in this announcement: “Fasten your seat belts, we will be landing momentarily.” Safire deemed that usage wrong, even quoting the British diplomat Sir John Kerr with this gripe against the American language: “It’s the abuse of momentarily. When the stewardess says that, I think to myself: ‘We’ll be on the ground for only a moment before the plane rushes off again. I’d better hurry.’ But she doesn’t mean that at all” (italicizations mine).

                                                    IMAGE CREDIT: YOUTUBE.COM


Indeed, what the flight attendant means in using “momentarily” is that the aircraft will be landing only for a moment—obviously erroneous. The grammatically correct usage is “at any moment” or “in a moment”: “Fasten your seat belts, we will be landing at any moment” or “Fasten your seat belts, we will be landing in a moment.”

This brings us now in a very good position to take up “hopefully.”

                                                  IMAGE CREDIT: ADAPTED FROM T.R. ELKINS AT LADYDEELG.COM


There really is no quibble over using “hopefully” in its sense of “in a hopeful manner,” as in “The flood-weary villagers prayed hopefully that the week-long heavy rains will soon stop.” What takes continuing flak is the long-running widespread use of “hopefully” in its sense of “I hope” and “it is hoped” in sentences like this: “Hopefully, I can make it to the top of my graduating class” and “Hopefully, the trade war between the United States and China will be resolved amicably.”

To this persistent grammar bugbear the Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary makes this usage note: “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 usually 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.”

To this I’ll add in closing that “hopefully” rightfully belongs to the class of words or phrases known as discourse markers, which as I discussed in my May 16, 2019 column can provide not only context but also sinew, verve, and a personal touch to our English.

(Next: The virtue of positioning adjectives postpositively)

This essay, 1,146th of the series, appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Campus Press section of the May 30, 2019 print edition of The Manila Times, © 2019 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2023, 02:50:08 PM by Joe Carillo »