Language Matters: Hopefully, you’ll look hopefully at this change

Are you a prescriptivist or a descriptivist?  Don’t know?

Here’s a test to find out: which of these uses of the word “hopefully” is correct?

Sentence 1: “Will you go with me to the dance?” the boy asked hopefully.

Sentence 2: Hopefully, it will rain soon and end this terrible drought.

If you think both are correct, you’re a descriptivist — someone who thinks that language should change to reflect the way that people actually speak.

Now see here, my good man, I do not agree with your descriptivist nonsense...

If you think only the first sentence is correct, you’re a prescriptivist — someone who thinks that words should only be used according to their original meaning.

‘Hopefully’ has been a linguistic battleground for years, as more and more people adopted its casual usage to mean “it is hoped” (like in the second sentence) rather than its original meaning, “in a hopeful manner” (like in the first sentence).

At this point, however, all of the big authorities on the English language — the Oxford English Dictionary, Webster’s, American Heritage, and now the Associated Press have accepted the “it is hoped” meaning of “hopefully.”

Language is constantly evolving and changing, and to fight against changing word meanings is, at the end of the day, futile.  People make language what it is.

So, are you more of a prescriptivist or more of a descriptivist?  Do you love it when words change or are you a stickler for the “real” meaning of words?

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