Another Lost Cause, Hopefully

a cop

Languages change every day. Itʼs inevitable and evolutionary. Language adaptation can occur so rapidly that the same language can diverge into two or more over just a few generations, as spoken Latin decayed (or developed, depending on your point of view) into the distinct Romance tongues in the earliest middle ages (as English evolved from German, both languages changing differently under different circumstances once those fifth and sixth century Angles, Saxons and Jutes had made the big voyage from southwestern Denmark and northern Germany to the old Roman province of Britannia). English accepted a lot of Latin influence fairly quickly, especially after conversion to Christianity about 700, that German did not undergo, then came the Vikings and the Old Norse repercussions and of course eventually Norman French. Meanwhile German went through a whole history of its own changes (unknown to me, by the way: I was an English teacher).

New words (slang and other neologisms), novel grammatical constructions (“me and him went downtown, bro”), misuse of grammar and syntax through simple ignorance (same example?), and the impact of other languages (as in Spanglish or the history of English in any period) all contribute to continual change. Add to that, novelty for its own sake (and subcultural exclusion — the need to appear “cool” and have usages that uncool others donʼt get, which personally I think is the essence of all slangisms) and contemporary txtsp3lln (a small sample: “not 2 cauz fiten& its nice 2here ppl say nice thngz back or put thngz n2 prspectiv”), and you get linguistic evolution slamming up the conversational highway today at well over the speed limit of mutual (fuhgeddabout universal) comprehension.

the evidence for the permissive…

And who is out there to try keeping all this wild growth in check (so we can actually understand each other — as best as that is possible at all)? English teachers — oops, apologies: language arts facilitators (I forgot to mention deliberate obfuscation among the multitude of semantic impediments), although that oneʼs pretty dated, “so last century.” The language cops are the language teachers, tirelessly (thatʼs a lie) devoting their lives to restraining freewheeling linguistic experimentation, judiciously pruning the sap-draining exotic growths forever leaping from the basic patois. Just like actual cops, some English teachers (itʼs my blog, and Iʼll use my own terms, thank you kindly) are loose and permissive while others are stern watchdogs ceaselessly snarling at the smallest linguistic innovation, clitic or contraction.

Just as everyone knows that theft is wrong, even the folks who regularly say it know that “ainʼt” is incorrect (which is pretty strange for a construction  originating among effete uppercrust snobs a few hundred years ago), such is the impact of the language cops patrolling their tumultuous linguistic beats. On the other hand, although there is no legislature to determine when itʼs time to change the language laws taught in classrooms, if enough people make a mistake without self-conscious hesitation, then the language has undergone another tiny evolutionary tick, and the educators just have to give up on the once dubious usage. A few hundred years ago, that happened with “mob,” originally so shuddersome to the educated elite for its ignorant truncation of the Latinate mobile vulgus. But the mob won, and the wordʼs legit, even a little old-fashioned nowadays (and of course, “legit” is boating the same muddy waters, apparently with equal success).

…and a fop

Sometimes the lingo cops just have to give up and accept the change. (Maybe that sentence should start with “often” or even “usually.”) And for me, one such lost cause in the language slow-volution wars (gotta love those neologs, huh?), is the word “hopefully.”

Somewhen I got trained that one should not use “hopefully” to mean “it is hoped that” but instead limit the word to indicating only “full of hope” (like the suffix -ful is meant to mean). I donʼt remember who taught me that lesson or when, but plenty of other authorities disagree: the word may have begun by meaning just “full of optimism,” but it now has the other meaning, too, perfectly legitimate at this late date. Merriam-Webster considers the first, “evil” use a sentence adverb (as you can read for yourself in todayʼs little image I created from the Dictionary entry), so clearly M-W (or Appleʼs New Oxford American Dictionary) is one of those permissively easygoing coppers. But the rigid restrictors have lost the war, whether they wish to admit the defeat or not. Everyone uses “hopefully” at the beginning of a sentence to mean “I/we hope,” almost all without hesitation or self-consciousness (maybe I should point out that I am a periodic exception there) — the indication that the change is complete. (And besides, check out those dates in the Dictionary entry above — this one should have been declared over back when only Restoration fops were nasally “ainʼt-ing.”) When the language cops come up with a name for a usage (in this case “sentence adverb”), you know the usage is accepted. After all, no one misunderstands when someone says, “Hopefully, FoxNews will one day tell the truth.” (And thatʼs completely unlike trying to read far too many choices vapid nitwits make texting!)

Hopefully, we can all agree on that.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

One thought on “Another Lost Cause, Hopefully

  1. Though I can not say I’ve been a regular reader of your blog, I can say without hesitation that whenever I do read it, I’m in 95% agreeance. With that said, I knew it was only a matter of time before todays topic came up. And I think anticipatorily it couldn’t have happened soon enough due to how much I enjoy your trains of thought and your ability to convey them. Todays topic never ceases to amaze me, nor do the ways it does so. You have hit some of those proverbial nails on their heads today Sir. A few years ago I happened across a rough draft a fellow had written, which he titled “The Agnostic Bible”(AB), yes I get the pun, that which solidifies my respect for the manuscript. In his writing he talks of this hyper state of evolution in which current society has found itself. I believe the topic of your blog today is a perfect example of this. In the AB he uses technology as one of his examples and goes on to explain how there are people who choose to embrace technology(people texting) and people who do not(my dads vcr still blinks 12:00). People don’t realize they are actively changing the course of humanity when they are “Lol wth there bff’s!”, nor does my Dad when he ignores the vcr all together and just reads a book. I feel like we are actually witnessing elements of this hyper state of evolution, which I find exciting. Though at times I’m less than excited when I see the direction of which I think it’s headed. There is an awful low budget movie which captures and portrays this in the form of a comedy called “Idiocracy”. I’m not willing to say whether I think it’s worth watching, but the premise is that we’ve evolved to the point where natural selection is no longer able to do it’s job because we’ve trumped it with all our technologies. And in this environment, stupidity runs rampant. To the point where as a society we are responsible for our own demise! And as the the AB points out, has happened to all the past civilizations that have come and gone, though he also goes on to discuss how religion and subsequent inclusion of it in our governance is one of the key reasons for the failure of prospering societies in the past. But that’s a whole other topic of discussion in which my disdain for the “Theocons” is at an alarming level.
    I apologize that me reading your blog has incited this rambling of mine and that it be directed at you, but that’s the risk you assume in being an author. I know as having been a student of your’s that it must be frustrating for you as a lingo cop to see all my gramatical errors, which I can only hope you don’t take personally that you’ve somehow failed me as it was purely my lack of aptitude for your field of expertise. I must say that I find often the desire to respond to your blogs on an intellectual level yet I’m usually too intimidated to do so based on my lack of ability to sound coherent. I’d more than welcome your constructive criticism on my response today as I have much respect for your professional ablity as a language arts facilitator. Though I understand if you deem it a lost cause and simply attribute me a casualty of the linguistical times.
    Good Day.

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