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  • Well-argued, Stan. It’s amazing people still get steamed up about this, and even more amazing that you actually have to pay money for a stylebook that gives such bad advice. ‘Hopefully’, like numerous other manner adverbs, has acquired an additional use as a sentence adverb – all of which is perfectly normal. Why some people can’t accept this is a mystery. As for the famous ‘decimate’, its ‘original’ meaning is what it meant in Latin (‘to kill one in ten members of a mutinous legion as a punishment’) – but English (as objectors seem not to have realised) is not Latin. (In the same way, Latin borrowed many words from Greek, and some changed their meaning in the process – i expect there were pedants in ancient Rome complaining about this too!)

  • I find the AP Stylebook’s advice very poor on this point, Michael. It flies in the face of widespread and long-established usage. Every so often, I come across a blog post that parrots the misinformation about hopefully, and the comments pour in from people appalled at themselves for having been ‘wrong’ all their lives and determined now to spread the (wrong) word. Gah! Given its considerable influence on journalists, writers and editors, the AP Stylebook should know better than to propagate this nonsense.

    As for decimate: MWDEU, supporting your point, says that the word “has seldom meant ‘to destroy every tenth man’ in English, and then only in historical references.” I’ve debated people over this one, generally to little avail. They see the facts and decide they prefer the world with peeves intact!

  • Stan:
    Ralph Waldo Emerson was presciently talking about prescriptivists, when he penned the now cliched, and usually misquoted, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Far-right prescriptivists are indeed “foolish” in the original sense of that word, and they certainly are people of “little” mind. I say, unhopefully, that we may be able to ignore them one day.

  • Marc: Extreme prescriptivism seems to result at least in part from a fundmental misapprehension of how language works. The fixation on rules that are often bogus, and meanings that might be outdated, and the presumption that these ‘rules’ and meanings are or should be universal and eternal — or foolishly consistent. This is not the language I know and love, which shifts and shimmies and unfolds anew every time it is used.

  • Exactly, Oliver. In some cases I think the problem stems (at least partly) from what Arnold Zwicky has called the One Right Way principle — or fallacy — that an expression can have only one acceptable meaning, or that a meaning can have only one acceptable form. The popular meaning of hopefully is still just decades old. In another generation or two, the problem should have all but evaporated.

  • My own somewhat trivial problem with decimate is that it is often used to mean “reduced *to* a tenth, or a very small proportion of the original”. Often with the modifier “literally”. So, while I agree it’s not skunked (its usual meaning of “seriously depleted” is unambiguous), it’s not a word I use.

    I won’t be moved on “electrocute”, though.

  • Indy: That’s a further complication. Very few people, I think, use it to mean “reduce by a tenth” or “kill/destroy a tenth of”, except when they’re discussing the word and insisting that that’s what it means. I don’t use it either, and I might never.