Hopefully Caring Less About Shibboleths
In a recent email reader Phil Dragonetti raises the specter of “could/couldn’t care less.
Why do some say “I could care less”;—when they really mean “I couldn’t care less.”?
We’ve already dealt with that shibboleth at DWT. I still have the bruises to show for voicing the opinion that as far as I’m concerned, either is acceptable to convey the idea that one cares very little about a matter.
The argument that the “couldn’t care less” form is more logical moves me not at all. Since when is it a requirement of an English idiom that it be logical?
Today’s shibboleth is the word hopefully used with the meaning “it is to be hoped that.”
His parting remark was, “Hopefully, they will get it right next time.”
Hopefully they’re working on a Mac port.
Hopefully, they will end college the way they started it – together.
Hopefully we’ve won some fans over today, (This from a British source)
Hopefully we are not headed for disaster in Cairo.
This use of hopefully is disdained by many. For example this entry at Englishplus.com:
Hopefully is an adverb which means what it ought to [italics mine]–“full of hope” or “characterized by hope.” It normally modifies verbs.
Nonstandard English sometimes substitutes the word hopefully for I hope (or some other subject with the verb hope).
Correct: They listened hopefully for the sound of the rescue party. (They listened with hope)
Incorrect: Hopefully, they will come in time.
Correct: I hope they will come in time.
On the other hand, here’s the note at Merriam-Webster:
it is hoped : I hope : we hope
usage In the 1960s the second sense of hopefully, which dates to the early 18th century and had been in fairly widespread use since at least the 1930s, underwent a surge in popularity. A surge of criticism followed in reaction, but the criticism took no account of the grammar of adverbs. 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.
I often wonder what it is about some words or expressions that causes people to harbor such strong feelings against them. This comment by a guest of Charlie Rose is what prompted me to write about hopefully:
[We should] tax all people 90% for misusing “hopefully.”
Animosity towards hurtful ethnic or gender slurs are one thing. But hopefully? (Excuse me while I put on my catcher’s mask. I know I’m about to be pelted.)
Although I don’t find hopefully particularly objectionable as a sentence adverb, I have to acknowledge that audience is everything. College students, for example, would do well to avoid the taboo usage in a written assignment. And I have to admit that I have friends and relatives around whom I would hesitate to use it.
Sometimes knowing you’re right doesn’t matter. I recall a college English professor who told how he learned the importance of adapting to one’s audience when he was home helping with the harvest and foolishly asked his fellow workers:
To whom does this pitchfork belong?”
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