Hopefully

“They don’t make writers like E.B. White any more…. His letters are the equivalent of a weekend in the country.”

- NEW YORK TIMES

I’ve finished reading Letters of E.B. White, all 685 pages of it. What a great book.

The jacket blurb enthuses:

Letters may give us a truer sense of the life and the personality that produced them than would any conventional memoir.” - DOWN EAST

One comes away with a strong sense of knowing this gentle, humorous, opinionated man and the time during which he inhabited the earth. And by his example, one comes away with a stronger sense of the proper use of the English language.

One hopes.

Which brings me to “hopefully.”

“Hopefully, the car will be repaired this afternoon.”

Ahem.

My entire life I have followed certain preachings on the proper use of “hopefully,” preachings which, it’s now clear to me, were directly influenced by The Strunk*. Herewith:

An inanimate object cannot be animate.

In other words, the car cannot be hopeful.

“I hope the car will be repaired this afternoon,” is more like it.

I let out a nerdy whoop when I came to EB’s letter, written Feb 16, 1970, addressing the matter of “hopefully”:

“I regard the word “hopefully” as beyond recall. I’m afraid it’s here to stay, like pollution and death and taxes. I wrote a comment in the New Yorker about “hopefully” when it first reared its ugly head, but without any beliefs that my remarks would act as a deterrent. I heard the word first when I took a very pretty granddaughter of mine to dinner at Le Cheval Blanc. I asked her when she expected to move into her new apartment, and she replied, “Hopefully, on Tuesday.” I can’t remember what I was stuffing in my mouth at the time, but I remember choking on it.”

Letters of E.B. White is interesting, amusing, and thought-provoking. I highly recommend it.

(*”This once-useful adverb meaning “with hope” has been distorted and is now widely used to mean “I hope” or “it is to be hoped.” Such use is not merely wrong, it is silly.” - THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White)

Categories: General.