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Avoiding Bugbears, Hopefully


By John Rosenthal

AFTER DINNER-TABLE discussions about the usual garbage--hockey games; the NCAA playoffs; who's better, the Mets or the Yankees; who has the most work coming up; where everybody is going for spring break, etc.--some friends and I had nothing left to talk about except the use of the word hopefully.

"Hopefully," I said, "is one of the most grammatically misused words in the English language."

"Not so," said a friend, who pointed to a dictionary definition. The American Heritage Dictionary defines hopefully as "1. In a hopeful manner. 2. It is to be hoped." The entry even offers direction for usage: "The use of hopefully to mean it is to be hoped, as in hopefully we'll get there before dark is grammatically justified by analogy to similar uses of happily and mercifully."

"However," the usage instruction goes on to say, "this usage is by now such a bugbear to traditionalists that it is best avoided on grounds of civility, if not logic."

Not wanting to be considered a traditionalist, nor to be characterized as having bugbears, I decided that I would resolve the conflict myself. Besides, I didn't feel like waiting for William Safire to come out with the last word on it. Herewith, an amateur's guidelines for using hopefully.

The usage as described in the American Heritage example is probably acceptable. After all, the hopefully in this sentence can be used as a modifier of the verb "to get" as it refers to the subject "we." To make this clear, we can turn the sentence around, so that it reads: "We'll get there before dark, hopefully." Constructed this way, the sentence allows the subjects to hope that they will arrive before dark.

But let me present another case where hopefully is hopelessly wrong: "Hopefully, my money will arrive before Sunday." In this case, hopefully again modifies a verb, "to arrive" but the action refers to the inanimate object "money." Money cannot be hopeful, nor can it arrive hopefully. Most of all, it cannot arrive before Sunday hopefully.

Hopefully, this column clears things up. I mean I hope this column clears things up.

THE LAST time I wrote a column on words and terms I didn't know the meaning of, I got a scathing letter explaining the meanings of these words. Those of you who read the letter may have found the definitions even more confusing than the terms themselves. Me too. Anxious to receive more hate mail, and perhaps some more lucid definitions of the terms that confuse me, I present some more terms whose meaning I am unable to comprehend.

The first is ultra-pasteurized milk. I know what pasteurized milk is. I know that Coors beer is not pasteurized. And I know that when Coors beer gets warm, there is one less reason to drink it. But what is ultra-pasteurized? Does that mean that the milk is pasteurized twice? Why would you need to pasteurize anything twice?

While we're at it, what is meant by homogenized milk? I assume it means the milk is treated so that the stuff on the top of the carton is the same as the stuff on the bottom. But if it's all milk, why do you need to homogenize it?

Lastly, what is extra-virgin olive oil? I have seen this term emblazoned across many a bottle of olive oil, but have still been unable to decipher it. Is extra-virgin olive oil made by people who not only have never had sex, but who have never even been on a date? Or is it olive oil that has never been made into a sweater (as is the case with virgin wool)? Even so, that would only explain it being virgin, not extra-virgin.

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