Too much to hope for?

May 13, 2012

In case you missed it, the AP Stylebook recently caved to prevailing usage of the word “hopefully.”

Like the friend who sent me this link, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the curmudgeon in me bemoans this further erosion of standards. (What’s next — acceptance of frivolous z’s in words/phrases like “For realz?” and “Whatev’z”?) On the other, avoiding nontraditional use of “hopefully” is really awkward in practice. To quote my father, a writer for most of his professional career:

I gave up trying to work around it, since it forces one to sound pompous (“It is to be hoped,” or “One would hope”). I guess you can say, “Let’s hope,” but that may not sound very smooth or natural. I tend to just say “hopefully,” and put up with intellectual stab of pain that accompanies it.

My dad is not simply a descriptivist, either. In his otherwise complimentary reaction to my 1995 commencement speech at Williams College, he noted that I had incorrectly used “aggravate” to mean “to annoy” (rather than “to worsen”).

Overall, some of these distinctions seem useful to me while others seem trivial. I’ve never been able to work up much concern about the splitting of inifinitives, yet I do have deeply held convictions on hyphens (sadly underutilized in compound modifiers of nouns) and Oxford commas (on which I agree with my friend, who writes, “I’m here, I’m pro-Oxford comma, and I vote!”).

Then there are the more straighforward issues such as lie vs. lay and its vs. it’s. I’m strictly a law-and-order guy on those, with no sympathy for the ignorant. Learn the rules, people! Without precise, clear communication, we have nothing but humbergesse and wogenblunks.


  1. My pet peeve is when people use “forte” to refer to someone’s strength or special expertise, but pronounce it “for-tay”, like the dynamical marking in music, rather than “fort”. But the mistaken pronunciation is by far the most common, and so at this point is effectively the correct usage.

    Descriptivists in grammar and spelling always win.

    • Ooh, I’m guilty of that one myself! (Too much music training, I guess?)

  2. I’ve almost given up on ‘forte.’ I don’t have a clue as to how the little new SUV named ‘Forte’ is pronounced.

    Using ‘I’ as the object of a pronoun also bugs me.

    What about ‘lie’ and ‘lay’ usage?

    The new thing bothering me is, ‘Her/him and I are…”

    Yecch! What is the world coming to? These youngsters didn’t learn proper English.

    Bob, the geezer at age 75 🙂

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