I just discovered something amazing that I’d done several years ago. (Don’t worry: I’m not bragging!)

I was revising a 2010 post from my blog about police reports. See if you notice anything about this paragraph:

Let’s use an everyday example that might make the rule more clear. You can’t be the worst child in your family unless your parents had at least three children. If there are only two children, you’re the worse child. (Or, hopefully, the better one!) Best, worst, most, and so on require three or more people or things.

OK, here it is. “Or, hopefully, the better one” is a controversial way to use hopefully, which is supposed to mean “in a hopeful manner.”

Here’s the correct way to use hopefully:

Margaret looked hopefully at the door.  CORRECT

For some reason I’m proud of that not-quite-kosher “hopefully” sentence on my blog. (It’s still there, by the way – I liked it, and I’m not taking it down.)

Let me explain. I am hyper-aware of language. I know the rules. I automatically run everything I say and write through the usage-checking software in my brain. Of course I’m casual about language much of the time – but I always know what I’m doing.

Or that’s what I thought.

But now I have evidence that I didn’t notice I was using hopefully in a not-so-accepted way – and on a professional blog. Geez. I didn’t think I had it in me.

I’m going to start wearing a cap that says “I’m a human being!”

(By the way, I’m not alone in this. Mary Norris – author of the wonderful Confessions of a Comma Queen – does not approve of the singular they. But she used it herself in the same book where she denounces it: “Nobody wanted to think they were not essential.” Hey, Mary – you’re human too!)



4 thoughts on “Hopefully….

  1. Darrell Turner

    Hopefully, no one will beg the question with some enormity that is very unique. 🙂

  2. Kelly Pomeroy

    I think it’s time to admit that that use of “hopefully” has become standard. Even my desk dictionary (Random House Webster’s, 1999) says that since the 1930’s it has been standard in all varieties of speech and writing, and parallels the use of certainly, curiously, frankly, etc.

    I’m inclined to think it’s time to jettison the fewer/less distinction as well. Grammar rules always derive from usage and, while I stick with the distinction in my own writing, it may already be pedantic to insist on it. (I know that sometimes we have to adhere to rules we don’t believe in, simply to keep others from thinking us uneducated – but that irks me.)

    In your quote from yourself, I think bigger problems than “hopefully” are the somewhat awkward “more clear” rather than “clearer”, and the lack of a comma after “and so on”. (And I put that period outside of the quotation marks because it’s logical to do so (Lynn Truss school of thought.)

  3. ballroomdancer Post author

    Great post, Kelly (your posts are always wonderful!). And I agree with you about retiring fewer/less. I do quotation marks American style – commas and periods inside. (I dislike Lynn Truss.) When I wrote a piece for a book published in England, I did the quotation marks British style, but I really like the American system.
    My vocal organs refuse to say “clearer,” so I always use “more clear.”
    What I REALLY loved in your post was your comment about sometimes adhering to rules we don’t believe in. I have been there many times. It’s still hard for me to split an infinitive in a professional piece, even though I think the “don’t split an infinitive rule” is absolute garbage. We writers are a kooky lot!
    Thanks for the post!

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