“To Grammar’s House” is a regular column by the Boston Globe copy desk on the style and language used in the newspaper.
Our colleagues at the Associated Press Stylebook have a new child, introduced last month by the bashful parents. Most of us will be familiar with this newly acknowledged member of their family, having used it to clear our throats while we tried to compose our thoughts, hopefully, to impress our audience with what else we might say.
On Twitter, @APStylebook announced, “Hopefully, you will appreciate this style update, announced at [the annual meeting of the American Copy Editors Society recently in New Orleans]. We now support the modern usage of hopefully: it’s hoped, we hope.”
Hopefully is a word that has crept into our speech, and it is as irritating as the “you know” I added to every other sentence at one point in my teenage years. Neither means very much, both are a play for time. At least they sound better than oohs, ahs, and grunts, which are other ways we cover when trying to figure out what we want to say. In the newspaper, we might see hopefully in direct quotations, for it is one of the things that real people say, but it is usually a waste of time to include it in an article, because it means so little.
Our stylebook says of quotations:
“The aim of a quotation is to advance a story by adding color or by shedding light on the people and subject matter involved. Quotations must truthfully represent the meaning of the speaker. Do not quote a mundane, disorganized, repetitive, or ungrammatical statement that can be better conveyed by paraphrase; conversely, avoid paraphrasing a trenchant statement that is better quoted. The best quotations are vivid and enlightening.”
For my money, the word hopefully will seldom add color or shed light on people and subjects.
But our stylebook is pretty indulgent about hopefully. In an entry dating to at least 2004, it says:
“Although purists insist that in a hopeful manner is the only correct meaning for this word, its other meaning, it is to be hoped, is so widely accepted that it has become part of the language. Like sadly, happily, and mercifully, the word hopefully need not be confined strictly to its adverbial sense.”
All of those words -- hopefully, sadly, happily, mercifully -- are rhetorical flourishes that are better left out of news reports. I came across the H-child last week in a report we ran on Bruins fans after the hometown team lost in the first round of the NHL playoffs (a story for news because we were interviewing fans outside the hockey arena). Here is an excerpt:
“Boston has had a secure reputation as a professional sports title town for much of the past decade. But fans were not sure if that could continue after some reverses in recent years.
‘The Patriots still have something going,’ Nagle said, hopefully. ‘The Red Sox - who ... knows?’ ”
I looked into our archives to see what we have done with the word recently. Most instances are in direct quotations and one was in a paraphrase of an official’s statement. In most cases, the absence of the H-word would not have hurt the articles in which it was included.
So, if our colleagues at the Associated Press, for whom we rely so much for reports on the world beyond our region, let the H-word creep into more of their copy, they give us another reason to edit wire stories. The first reason to do so is that we have so little space these days for foreign news, which many of us regret. The other reason for continuing to edit is that our readers are better served if we clean up some of the weaknesses, like overuse of the H-word, in the interests of clarity and readability. We hope that doing so will better serve the paper and its readers.
Hopefully, you will think so, too.