Worse errors than hopefully

Cyberspace is a-buzz with reactions to the recently announced decision by the Associated Press Stylebook editors to accept the “modern usage of hopefully.”

Although many speakers welcome the decision, others see it as another nail in the coffin of grammatical correctness in American speech.

I read about the AP decision in an article by Monica Hesse of the Washington Post (27 April 2012). The first words of the article make her disapproval clear:

The barbarians have done it, finally infiltrated a remaining bastion of order in a linguistic wasteland.

The irritable argument of the anti-hopefully faction is that the only acceptable use of hopefully is with the meaning “in a hopeful manner.” Unlike other English adverbs such as frankly, regretfully, and unfortunately, hopefully must never ever be used to modify a an entire sentence. It must never be used in the sense of “it is to be hoped,” the way the word hoffentlich is in our own language’s German cousin.

The word hopefully has been available to English speakers since the 17th century. Its first documented “modern” use in the OED  is from 1932 in the NY Times Book Review. The popularity of this use of hopefully picked up in the 1960s. By 1971 it could be found in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

When it comes to crimes against the language, using hopefully to mean “it is hoped” is a long way from the equivalent of murder.

This “modern” use of hopefully illustrates the tendency of speakers to simplify  language. It has nothing to do with “sloppiness” or “ignorance.” Inflections drop off. Taximeter cabriolet becomes taxi or cab. Luncheon becomes lunch. What could be more reasonable than to want to replace a six-word phrase like “it is to be hoped that” with one word? Monica Hesse aside, there is nothing “barbaric” about hopefully. You want barbaric?  How about irregardless with its inappropriate prefix?

I love the fact that some people still care about the language enough to write lengthy letters and blogs about their pet peeves. What I’d love more is if they’d direct their efforts to educate the public about more serious errors. Let’s hear some outrage over the errors that arise daily in the media because of the inattention to English instruction in U.S. schools.

For starters, where’s the outrage when news announcers, talk show hosts, and doctors and lawyers in TV dramas utter such abominations as these:

I’ve made reservations for Megan and I.
The chancellor will talk about he and his wife’s relationship with the governor.
Why don’t you let your father and I talk.
Me and my friends attend Cal-Tech.
The suspect told police that him and another man shot the store owner.
They’re 100% identical as theirs.
This is something we probably should have did right after 9/11.

Compared to howlers like these, hopefully is a non-starter when it comes to murdering the language.

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