Su Lum: Slumming |

Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

In last Sunday’s Aspen Times Weekly, John Colson, in his column “I’m making a big stink out of a little peeve,” took a whack at “the growing misuse of the word, ‘hopefully.'”

I have my own pet peeves, including the misuse of “lay,” “lie,” “me,” “I,” and, especially, “MYSELF,” but despite E.B. White’s (my favorite author) objections to the bastardization of “hopefully,” and perhaps because my mother always winced when she heard it, I find the current usage unambiguous and often use it myself.

John acknowledged that there were more important matters to address, and that is my dilemma as well. Do I sit before the computer and read the entire new Aspen Community Plan, now called the Aspen Community Vision, the summary of which is couched in confusing “future-speak,” or do I take the hopefully less onerous task of discussing the past and present usage of the word “hopefully”?

Colson’s point is that “hopefully” is an adverb, which needs to modify a verb, an adjective or another adverb. He gives a correct example, “John stared hopefully at the plate of macadamia nuts on the table,” with “hopefully” modifying the verb “stared,” as opposed to “Hopefully, I’ll get to eat some of those nuts,” wherein “hopefully” doesn’t modify anything and should, instead, be replaced with “I hope.”

I had no intention of challenging Colson’s unassailable position but, with a small degree of curiosity and a large degree of hopelessness, I turned to “Garner’s Modern American Usage,” modestly subtitled, “The authority on grammar, usage and style,” to see what Bryan Garner had to say about “hopefully.”

Garner outlines the correct use of the word “hopefully,” and lists the arguments in support of the grammatical correctness, including the position that, if we’re not vigilant, the true meaning of the word will become extinct.

Then Garner adds a but … a big BUT by stating, “whatever the merits of those arguments, the battle is now over. ‘Hopefully’ is now a part of AmE (American English), and it has all but lost its traditional meaning.”

Thus spake Garner, from whom I expected no confirmation. His conclusion about the impasse was simple and inspired: “Avoid it in all senses if you’re concerned with your credibility: if you use it in the traditional way, many readers will think it odd; if you use it in the newish way, a few readers will tacitly tut-tut you.”

Good advice. Just say “no” to “hopefully.” John will no longer stare hopefully at the nuts, and I won’t, hopefully, get to eat the nuts, me will just lay here and lust after them.

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