Sunday, June 17, 2012

Speaking Hopefully

Stop talking right now!!  Unless, of course, you're reading this aloud, in which case keep talking.  But before you say one more word of your own, I have something to tell you that may forever change the way you speak.

Did you know that recently the Associated Press released a statement, by way of a "Tweet," no less, in which they legitimized the modern usage of the word "hopefully?"  I didn't.  And when I heard they had, I was very surprised because I've been using that word for decades and had no idea I was doing so incorrectly!  "Hopefully" you all feel the same way.

But apparently it's true.  Before two months ago, the only grammatically correct way you could use "hopefully" was if you were using it in place of "in a hopeful manner."  As in, "When it came time for chemotherapy, the cancer patient smiled hopefully."

Every other usage was wrong!  "Hopefully I won't get cancer?"  WRONG!

Well, this announcement has caused quite a stir among the so-called English elite. They feel as though the Associated Press has given up, surrendered to the ignorance of the general public.  Said one advocate for grammatical purity,  

"I don’t care if AP threw in the towel, I’m not going to use the word in place of “I hope.” But the incorrect usage is so common that I gave up correctly even my children on it years ago."

Now if you just read that lady's quote and thought it didn't make sense, that's because it didn't.  She has a big ol' typo in the second sentence.  Ah, poetic justice…

While I'm the first to admit that I love writing and grammar, I'll gladly confess that I ain't no expert.  To me, using language is more like painting a canvas.  There are a lot of tools to use, but it all depends on what you want your final product to look like.

I know I have at least a few elegantly ornate paintings hanging in the gallery of my linguistic mind, dripping with articulate metaphors and highlighted by a scintillating vocabulary.  I also know, however, that I have quite a few simple renderings, painted by a simple farm boy.  After all, I continue to have a hard time remembering “Laundromat” instead of “Laundry Mat.”

Which is why when I hear that this "hopefully" controversy has so many people up in arms, I think to myself, "Aren't we just talking about another color here, another tool for painting?  Isn't it just another a word?"

But that same argument has been used on me.  When interrogated about why I stay clear of the f-bomb, I have heard on occasion, "It's just a word."  And it's true.  Words are just words, but it's up to us whether or not we use them

The beauty of language is that all words are not created equally.  If we didn't assign any power to grammar rules or vocabularies, we would never be able to say what we feel, nor feel what we say. 

Still, it's important to remember that there is no one way to paint a canvas.  Everyone uses their tools in the ways they see fit.  'Hopefully' we agree upon the rules, but if the final product is a beautiful one, maybe it doesn't matter so much how it got there. 

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