Wednesday, 11 June 2008


Hopefully, the weather will do us a favour and it won’t rain over the weekend.

Hopefully, England will qualify for the Euro 2008. (They didn't, and Lord be praised! Can we now watch some cricket with its microseconds of excitement deliciously scattered over five days?)

Hopefully, the wine won’t let us down.

Hopefully, we’ll get tickets for the opera.

Hopefully, the meeting will proceed uneventfully.

Hopefully someone, one day, will visit this blog; hopefully someone will like some or more of the write-ups; hopefully someone might decide to leave a comment or two; hopefully, even if no one visits, I shall have the enthusiasm to continue blogging in a year’s time.

Hopefully gets my goat. I am developing a dislike for hopefully that is in danger of mutating into pathological hatred. Hopefully, I don’t like; I don’t like hopefully.

‘What’s wrong with hopefully?’ I hear you asking. Let me explain. Allow me to put forth my case.

When I say I don’t like hopefully, it’s not hopefully, strictly, that I dislike. Oops. . .walked into the trap, there, didn’t I ? Ignore, the previous sentence. I am human, after all; I am not perfect. (But I have the smartness to realise and humility to accept my mistakes.) Let me start again. When I say I don’t like hopefully, it is not hopefully that I dislike. That does not make sense either, does it? Let me have another go; hopefully, I’ll get it right the third time. I know, I know; some of the smart Alecks amongst you are smirking. I shall say no more other than refer you to the last parenthesis. I shall have a third go at what I am propounding, although, strictly, it is a second go. Oh dear! It is not going well, is it? I seem to have the knack of getting into a trap, getting out, turning around, and walking into the same trap. Let’s have a totally new beginning. (I am going to ignore the impish murmurs I can hear from the pranksters amongst you that new beginning is a tautology. It is not, always, in my view, and I shall say nothing more on the matter; I am not going to be waylaid into a discussion on tautology when what I am hoping to do is educate you hopefully, sorry, on hopefully. There! That is the correct usage: I said I was hoping to; I didn’t say hopefully, not, needless to say, because I am not hopeful, although I have never been of absurdly optimistic disposition either.) So, where was I? Oh yes! My position, so to speak, on hopefully. Let me begin by saying that I think it is a perfectly decent word. It has been used, I am sure, for a long time. Oxford English Dictionary records its first usage in the seventeenth century (and, no doubt, word-detectives, if they get wind of the fact that BBC 2, determined to reduce prescription use of sedatives and hypnotics, are intending to re-launch Balderdash & Piffles, will dig up even earlier usage of the word, which will send shock-waves amongst the language-wonks). There are instances, though I can’t think of any at the minute, when hopefully will do; nay, only hopefully will do. However, I shall humbly suggest that such instances, and my inability recall any as I write is a proof of it, if needed, are few. Certainly, OK, ignore the word, Indeed will be more appropriate in the context, given my position (metaphorical) on hopefully, the examples I have given above, the last one, you, at least those amongst you who have an eye for subtlety, will not have failed to notice, being my modest attempt at irony, are not of them, the instances.

Hopefully is an adverb; obviously; like obviously; exactly; like exactly . . .all right; I think I have driven home my point. And the last time I checked an adverb qualifies a verb, gives us additional information about it. So, if we take the first example, the weather, when it does us a favour, it does so hopefully! The wine will not let us down. And how will it not do that? Hopefully! How will we get tickets for the opera? Not by on-line booking; not by standing in the queue; but hopefully! How will the meeting proceed? It will proceed not only uneventfully, but also hopefully. That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it; or doesn’t it? What, of course, each of the sentence is attempting to convey, is the speaker is hopeful of whatever that he / she is hoping would happen. It would be fanciful to assume that abstract concepts or inanimate objects are invested with emotions such as hope. Wouldn’t it be correct to say, say, We are hopeful, or, if that sounds cumbrous, Let’s hope, or With luck?

Sentence adverb. I knew someone was bound to mention this unwholesome twentieth century fashion, which, in the twenty-first, is becoming disturbingly widespread. A sentence adverb refers to not only a part of the sentence, but also a whole, independent, sentence or clause, which is implied. Thus, Hopefully implies It is to be hoped. Economical? May be. (Ungenerous, more like). Elegant? Certainly not. It jars; it irritates; its usage is silly; it’s semiliterate nonsense.

What did you say? Why am I persecuting hopefully? I am not persecuting anyone or anything, and even if I were, I wouldn’t do that hopefully. Oh! I see. Why am I persecuting hopefully? I see what you are getting at. There are hundreds of words, well, at least dozens of them, I agree, which people use routinely in the same way as hopefully. Why am I, as you have chosen to put, persecuting (although, persecute, if I may point out, has negative connotations, as if I am maltreating hopefully, I mean hopefully, which, I shall thank you to remember, is not my intention at all) just one? In my view none of the other adverbs, or sentence adverbs as some self-appointed language mavens might say, is misused as much as hopefully, although, I feel compelled to point out, since no one else, so far, has, that I have gone to some length not to use any in this what the Germans would, surely, describe as a ratiocinative Kritik (well, not ratiocinative, of course, unless they are proficient in English, which, some of them may well be). Indeed the misuse, and I am choosing my words carefully, is bordering on molestation. If I were hopefully, I would be seriously considering taking an injunction against these language-chavs. Also, I have to start some where, and I might as well do that hopefully, I mean with hopefully.

There are some dictionaries, including, disappointingly, The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, which appear to be coming around to the view, one can’t help feeling not without a sense of resignation, that it is OK to use this once useful adverb in such a distorted manner on the tenuous grounds that more and more people are doing it. It is like saying if you are a teenager, it is OK to traumatize your naval with piercing and tattoo hideous designs on your lower abdomen with an arrow pointing south (or something subtle like that) because some other lobotomised juveniles are doing it; or it is OK to have sex with a donkey (or pig) if you live in Norfolk. It is not OK to abuse donkeys (or pigs or any members of anthropoidea), and it is not OK to abuse a language.

I urge you to follow the advice in the notice Edwin Newman reputedly put on his office door: Abandon Hopefully All Ye Who Enter Here.