Tuesday, May 26, 2009


May 25, 2009

Roy Blount Jr. has reviewed a book called Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language in the NYT Book Review (May 24, 2009). The authors tell us that it is hopeless to resist the evolution of the word ‘hopefully’ to mean ‘it is hoped’ or ‘I hope’. I think she is right but I continue to resist. I remember being at lunch at the Supreme Court in Washington DC with my parents and brothers the day after what might be called ‘a good dinner’. They were not familiar with the custom of serving iced tea at meals and this gave rise to a proper use of the word ‘hopefully’. Hopefully they looked at their iced tea only to be disappointed.

In spite of Churchill’s comment on the rule of grammar that would rule out ending a sentence with a preposition, (“That is a rule up with which I will not put”) I still prefer to avoid so doing. Another rule that I like is long gone in popular speech and grammar and in all kinds of official publications and that is rule against the split infinitive. I realize that the logic for the rule (there being no possibility of splitting the infinitive in Latin or its derivatives), and in spite of my love of Star Trek, the split infinitive is a realm into which I would rather not boldly go.

Finally (for now) I also prefer the pronunciation of ‘blessed’ as bless-ed rather than blest, especially in church. The version of the Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer depends on the longer pronunciation for purposed of scansion and rhythm. There is a reason it sounds better. Similarly ‘prophesy’ sounds better pronounced prophe-sigh to distinguish it from ‘prophecy’ or prophe-see. This too appears to be a losing battle based on the way 1 Corinthians 13 is read at many weddings.

1 comment:

diane said...

Hooray for you and your defense of traditional grammar. Perhaps you might care to join me in my quixotic fantasies of forming a society for the rescue and salvation of the adverb. Hrm. I will assume you understand that I am not referring to any interest whatsoever in the spiritual condition of the adverb. I would simply prefer it continues to exist as well respected and correctly used part of speech I want to cry when I hear a report for NPR claiming that something was done "faster" rather than "more quickly."

I was particularly pleased with your words about the use of "hopefully." I know it is a losing battle, but it is to be hoped that some of us will keep up the struggle.

Thank you, Geoffrey for a truly amusing post which I enjoyed very much.

Diane Hughes