Style Counsel

Every month, the newsletter editors think, “Hopefully, there will be no typos in this month's newsletter.”

Or do they?

While the supposition that deep down editors don't really care about typos and other such trifles certainly has its merits (I mean, come on, people - let's be honest just this once?), today it is not an issue. At issue here is the newsletter editors' use of 'hopefully'. First invented in the 17th century to mean 'in a hopeful manner' (“Staring hopefully at the recipe book, the editor attempted to change the word 'people' to 'pepper' using Jedi force powers.”), the word 'hopefully' has since the 20th century transformed into a sentence adverb*, and is now more commonly used to mean 'it is to be hoped' (“Hopefully I'll remember to correct those spelling errors at the next set of proofs, but if I don't, who cares, I mean srsly?”).

Sentence adverbs ending in -ly, such as 'hopefully', have arguably been in use since the 14th century, but have always been a rare occurrence in the English language. But by the middle of the last century they suddenly started to become very mainstream (why? how?), thereby managing to become a subject of intense and acrimonious debate between conservatives, who reacted righteously to this appalling new trend, and people who didn't really quite care all that much. The result? A whole bunch of traumatised people now avoid the word 'hopefully' in emails to middle management.

(Of course, those people can tentatively dip their feet in the waters of 'hopefully' again, with the venerated AP Stylebook recently caving to contemporary usage, announcing via Twitter on 17 April, "We now support the modern usage of hopefully. It is hoped, we hope.”)

Interestingly, out of all the numerous sentence adverbs ending in -ly, only this particular adverb  - hopefully - has succeeded in ruffling any feathers.

Is it right? Is it wrong? Do we care? Let me know.

Hopefully yours,

Style Counsellor

*An adverb modifies a verb, adjective or adverb. A sentence adverb modifies a whole sentence or part of sentence.