[Hopefully’s] detractors were operatic in their vilifications. ... The historian T. Harry Williams went so far as to pronounce it "the most horrible usage of our times" -- a singular distinction in the age that gave us expressions like "final solution" and "ethnic cleansing," not to mention "I'm Ken and I'll be your waitperson for tonight."The critics also complained that hopefully "doesn't specifically indicate who's doing the hoping."
But neither does "It is to be hoped that," which is the phrase that critics like Wilson Follett offer as a "natural" substitute. That's what usage fetishism can drive you to -- you cross out an adverb and replace it with a six-word impersonal passive construction, and you tell yourself you've improved your writing.The oddest thing about hopefully may be the persistence of its opponents. During Nunberg’s time as chair of the American Heritage Usage Panel, he reports,
panelists generally become less sticklerish about traditional bugaboos like using "aggravated" for "irritated" or "nauseous" for "nauseated." The only exception is that floating "hopefully." In 1969, only about half the panelists agreed with it; by 1999 it was unacceptable to 80 percent of them.But there's a surprisingly hopeful conclusion:
People will always have their crotchets, those scraps of grammatical lore they learned at the end of Sister Petra's ruler. But there's no one around now who could anoint a brand-new litmus test for grammatical purity.I suspect this is true, and what good news it is. Because -- as I realized a few years ago, while researching peeves of the past – if we all accept one another’s peeves as valid, the list of don’ts can only keep growing, and it already taxes the abilities of the dwindling band of copy editors. Maybe we've already begun to do what John McIntyre wisely suggests: Ignore the usage fetishes that don’t really matter.