Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hopefully this is the end of THIS bit of peevology

Lo and be-freakin-hold, the Associated Press has flipped on hopefully. Here's the WaPo story on it, and the key quote is:
the venerated AP Stylebook publicly affirmed (via tweet, no less) what it had already told the American Copy Editors Society: It, too, had succumbed. “We now support the modern usage of hopefully,” the tweet said. “It is hoped, we hope.”


Unknown said...

I can't tell whether the AP addressed the grammatical issue at all. Just to say that "we now support the modern usage" is inadequate, given that a lot of cranks will reflexively reject any sort of language change.
The important point is that there are adjunct adverbs that modify verb phrases and disjunct adverbs that modify clauses/sentences. Some adverbs can do both, and "hopefully" is an example.
Adjunct: The batter stepped hopefully to the plate.
Disjunct: Hopefully, he'll strike out.
The list of disjunct, sentence-level adverbs includes "certainly," significantly," and "unfortunately" and several others. They express the speaker's attitude toward the proposition.
The relatively new use of "hopefully" (I hope that...) falls nicely into this well established grammatical pattern.
Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage says about the sentence level use of "hopefully" that "there was never really anything wrong with it; it was censured ... because it was new, and it's not very new anymore."
The argument should be about empirical observations of grammatical patterns in rather than about people's vague feelings about what they have heard or were taught regarding the grammar of our language.

Jonathon said...

Unknown makes a good point. Most of the stories about this frame it as the AP giving up on a rule, when it should be an admission that it was never a valid rule to begin with.

Mr. Verb said...

True. I don't think that's how those folks operate, though.

Eugene said...

In my view, the dispute about hopefully isn't, strictly speaking, a grammatical issue. The word is morphologically well formed. It's being used as a disjunct adverbial characterizing the speaker's attitude toward the proposition, a well established and uncontroversial function for similar adverbs.
It would be better to consider this a usage issue. That way when people make emotional arguments (makes my skin crawl) or analogical arguments (regretfully can't be disjunct, you have to use regretably) or when copy editors prohibit it arbitrarily, we can at least have an argument on stylistic grounds.
Calling it bad grammar is factually incorrect, plus it unnecessarily makes language users insecure. It also irritates linguists, but we can't get much traction in an argument where we're talking about two different things.
That's my proposal. Let's call it usage. Whether to use whom or end sentences with prepositions, etc. are issues of usage and style.
However, when we want to talk about grammar, let's look at data and make grammatical arguments. We'll look things up in Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage before we issue our own opinions. We'll check the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language and read Language Log to see what Pullum has to say. We'll take an empirical approach and keep our minds open.