Grammar Regulators Concede to the 'Modern Usage' of a Word

More
[optional image description]
Flickr/rzrxtion

Earlier today, the Associated Press's Stylebook sent out the following tweet:

Appreciate it I do; this is great news. We now support the modern usage! [Insert cheeky use of "hopefully" here!] Because among the ranks of the Grammar Rules We Knowingly Break Because Those Rules Are Stupid, the long-standing edict against "hopefully" has long held a place at the top. "Hopefully," the law of grammar has informed us, should be used only in the most literal sense: to describe something that is done in a hopeful manner. Used in the way the majority of English-speakers use it -- as a proxy for hope -- the word is, we are told, simply wrong. 

As the AP put it in a previous tweet:

Got that? Do not use it.  

The anti-"hopefully" mandate has been a bad grammar rule in the manner of all bad grammar rules: It doesn't track with the way people actually use the language. The rule is completely out of touch with those it's meant to regulate. And while grammar guides, by nature, will always represent a tension between the vernacular use of a language and the normative use of it ... still, when everyone's just ignoring a rule, that rule demands amendment. We talk about language being a living thing; implied in the cliché is the idea that, for living things, "growth" and "life" are pretty much the same. And a good way to help language's growth is to rid it of unnecessary hindrances. Just as the AP has done today.

So: Yay! The change is a small thing, but it's a reminder of a broader truth: that language evolves -- just like the Internet itself -- as a product of end-user innovation. Top-down guidelines and regulations can be valuable; but they are valuable only insofar as they reflect people's habits and assumptions. And if the regulators want to preserve their authority, they must be as open to evolution as the thing they claim to regulate. Language, like any good technology, must be responsive to the people who use it.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Technicolor Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier

Video

What Do You Wish You Learned in College?

Ivy League academics reveal their undergrad regrets

Video

Famous Movies, Reimagined

From Apocalypse Now to The Lord of the Rings, this clever video puts a new spin on Hollywood's greatest hits.

Video

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In