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.


My own visual realization of the topic (get it?), which I left only slightly scaled-down so that if you click on the picture you can see the enlargement. The (actually empty) fountain pen is inscribing, supposedly, on my actual handwritten text for “Mistakes by Moonlight,” somewhat further along than my posting of pieces here has gotten. I have always insisted that my penmanship is atrocious.

I have many favorite things (one of my notes-to-self for the blog is to discuss my favorite things). I listed some of the addictive (or at least noticeably unproductive) ones yesterday. Youʼre going to read more about some of those in posts to come, unless some unlikely stroke of genius sends the blog in directions as yet unguessed. And I have other things I like, that I donʼt feel are bad for me, to discuss in future posts as well, including (no, I wonʼt succumb to a list for a third day in a row) my preferred music(s), favorite books and movies (topics I have tapped oh-so-very-lightly several times already), interesting websites, religious musings, and pleasant activities (I nearly typed “pleasurable” before my inbuilt censor indicated the potential problem there).

But I realized in creating the daily posts this week that thereʼs one subject/activity that tops all the rest and in which I indulge myself without hesitation or regret (although not necessarily to your indiminishable joy). I love our language, words. I really enjoy stringing together sentences and exploring just what kaleidoscopic mash-ups may evolve. That was the fun of those days when I wrote poetry regularly. That was the heady glory glimmering behind the verbosity of the old poem I posted once and which explodes in all the other poems and prose I treasure, whether present on this forum or otherwise. My linguaphilia, not to coin a word although I thought I was (and the spellchecker didnʼt know the term either), conspires and smiles in all the elongated, perambulating and parenthetically interrupted sentences that I have made for these many posts (242 of them today, evidently). Erupting into strings of (somewhat) logically connected words is unrestrained pleasure for me, and I enjoy nearly as much finding (or rediscovering/remembering) new, exciting (hopefully appropriate) words to use (gotta love electronic thesauri).

Although I donʼt mean my verbal conduct to be offputting, I know how decisively many oppose the use of abundant and profuse words (not to mention floridly expansive and convoluted periodic compound-complex sentences). After all, one might have to look up an unfamiliar locution or even reread a lengthy and winding statement. Hemingway would hate my style, even moreso his fanatic and dutiful disciples. I bet ditto for Hammett, although I have benefited and learned from both men and the supposedly straightforward school of writing. The regimenting and rigorously Rightist bigwig bosses of contemporary “conservativism” donʼt like complexity, either (even the Dextral deference and reverential obescience to Respectable and Almighty Latin adheres to easy words and simple phrases, requiring little or no declension or conjugation, even as their English usage prefers brief and easily misunderstood AngloSaxon generalizations). Complex ideas are too difficult, simply, to impose and purvey, no matter that the truth is multiplex, intricate and difficult (particularly in politics). “Lock and load” sells so much better in the twilit land of troglodytes than ponderous, expansive, actual contemplation and reasonable discussion of knotty issues. Easy answers for simple minds. Forever. Amen.

(Sorry about that. A friend posted something on Facebook a few days ago [referencing this document, for those of you not on FB], as I was composing this post, that got me laughing — at its overt Rightism which slavish friends of the originator simplistically misinterpreted in their regimented, docile compliance with the accepted and enforced Right attitudes — and outraged that anyone should believe U.S. citizens could be so blatantly, but apparently successfully, manipulated. I took an Evernote of the post and its initial responses, perhaps fodder for a future rant. On the other hand, as George Orwell so vividly determined, limiting language is the firmest form thought control [short of successful torture, if we include his perceptions expressed in Nineteen Eighty-Four], and the paranoid Lords of the Right are clearly learning lessons in exploitation and “persuasion” from the fallen Soviets: Keep It Simple for the Stupids.)

Perhaps I should have entitled this post “Freedom of Speech” the way things have developed (but I think that title should belong on a later, more thoughtful and profound post), because what I love about language and spinning out phrases and clauses to weave together is the unqualified freedom of such creative personal expression. (And now I find a theme intertwining this weekʼs posts — freedom, as opposed to obligation, if we want to include Sundayʼs bit of Stars in Heaven. Look back — I  love the hits, which by the way are nearing 50,000 according to the counter to the right — and see for yourselves.) Liberty is what language provides to me (in an almost christian way, philosophically, as one must sacrifice oneʼs childhood abandon to acquire and master as best one can the semantic, linguistic and grammatical regulations — and a whole lot of words — in order to enjoy the radical liberation of unconstrained articulation, as churchly folk say one should submit to the savior to find spiritual disenthrallment), and whether that logico-linguistic freedom is real or paradoxical (as the previous parenthetical interjection indicated) or whatever, itʼs fun for me. And I hope not utterly alienating for my readers.

As all the recent posts have run long, I kept this one almost short (-ish). It is a weekend, after all. I hope someone appreciated my redirected (or spatially dyslexic) allusions to one of the most over-the-top political speeches of the modern era — Safireʼs (intentionally?) excessively alliterative words for Agnewʼs obedient mouth.

And I hope everyone appreciates the florescence of incidental puns on “utterlately, including the one above.

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