Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Nonwords and Words You Should Never Use, Part 2 in a Recurring but Randomly Timed Series

Okay, technically today's object of derision is a word, but because (1) the way it is used in this example is so horrendous, and (2) said use is endorsed by one of the largest, most patronizing know-it-all companies in the world, it just seems like the thing to do.

Exhibit 1 supporting our charge of ginormous crime against grammar and usage worldwide:

First some history. The word hopefully is often maligned by the word police. The word hope is a noun or verb depending on its use, while hopeful is an adjective. Ending in -ly, hopefully is an adverb, but what exactly does it modify?

If used in a technical sense, there are few verbs that hopefully can actually modify, because most of them refer back to the subject due to syntax, and the correct word in those cases is hopeful, not hopefully, e.g.:

"Hopefully, I swung the bat." If you were hoping for a hit, then hopeful is the word, not hopefully. If you were wondering whether you swung the bat, then this sentence only makes sense if you were hit in the head by the bat, thus causing amnesia, because otherwise you already know the answer to the question.

If someone else says this to you, however, using you instead of I, then by usage we know that the speaker means that not only is there a question of whether you swung the bat, but also the use of hopefully instead of a more neutral interrogatory word means that the speaker hopes that you actually did swing the bat. In this sense, hopefully stands in for it is hoped, I hope, and similar phrasings.

The word police would argue that the latter alternatives should be used instead, but through common usage we know what the speaker means, and the alternatives are either stilted or overly direct compared to hopefully, which is a less confrontational way of saying the same thing. For the record, I've never had a problem with hopefully in its more common usage, regardless of what the word police have to say about it (not that I wouldn't edit it out depending on the style sheet, but that's another matter entirely).

One usage, however, is completely and absolutely wrong. Remember above, that someone speaking in the first-person generally can't use hopefully because hopeful works instead? It's also because in a first-person context, hopeful is nearly always a state of being, as in "I am hopeful." Saying "I am hopefully . . ." gets us back to the alternative problem addressed above—it only makes sense if you don't actually know the answer, as in "Hopefully, I am not sick" or "I am hopefully not sick," both of which are subjunctive in nature.

And again, many would argue that "I hope" would work as well and is more correct, but whatever. The point is that the song in the commercial bugs the living hell out of me. Beyond the fact that it's the kind of syrupy, stupid, badly written and played song that you (hopefully) forget a few hours later, it has a glaring grammatical error: the use of hopefully to indicate a state of being in the first person.

The line "I'm feeling hopefully" is only outdone in the next with "I'm feeling quite hopefully," which adds a modifier to an already terrible grammatical error. Technically, this might actually make sense—that is, if the singer just got out of a mental ward and is coming down from Prozac, in which case the actual meaning is "I'm feeling, hopefully" [comma mine]. Unfortunately, however, the overall context tells us that's unlikely to be true, and the second use, with quite before hopefully, dooms that possible interpretation, since a person can't "feel quite, hopefully":

How you feeling today, Bob? 
Well, Jen, I'm feeling quite. 
Oh, quite what? 
Nothing more, just quite. 
Uh, okay. 

That some bohemian singer in San Francisco apparently didn't pass eighth-grade English is hardly the worst thing in the world (other than when this commercial comes on and then grates on my nerves for the next 20 minutes if I don't change the channel fast enough). No, the abomination is that this is an Apple commercial, supposedly vetted by a major ad agency and the company itself. But somehow, some way, this poor usage, which would warrant an F on a homework assignment, has the tacit endorsement of a major corporation and its brain-dead agency, who have managed to drop the collective IQ, or annoy the bejesus out of, millions of innocents.