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Hopefully remaining hopeful

bad grammar sign on fence

Good thing all grammar books are consistent in their guidance. Right?

There’s nothing more calming, peaceful and spiritually refreshing than writing. Unfortunately, with our fast-paced, modern-day lifestyles, most people are too harried to try it.

Writing also allows people to preserve a part of themselves for posterity. It’s a fun and creative way to preserve memories — and it’s certainly less expensive than being cryogenically frozen.

Unfortunately, writing is difficult. Creativity doesn’t come easily … unless, of course, you’re a Hollywood screenwriter who uses a formula. Being rich doesn’t hurt, either.

For everyone else, though, learning to write well is frustrating. Writing is a vexing pursuit … which might explain why so many vexing people are writers.

The first step to writing is nailing the basics. Unfortunately, the basics are so numerous, and so confusing, that many English 101 students are ready to nail them to the wall.

Even professional writers and grammarians often disagree. And these are the people who establish the rules.

For example, in an essay titled “Las Vegas — West Egg?” writer John H. Irsfeld offers a critique of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. (The essay is available in a compilation titled East of Eden, West of Zion.)

“[‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’] is not what one would safely call a work of the first intensity,” Irsfeld says. “The word ‘hopefully’ is used in its colloquial misplacement; ‘or whatever’ dangles uselessly, emptily, at the end of too many clauses. Works of the first intensity lack such rough edges.”

“‘Hopefully’ used in its “colloquial misplacement”? What the heck does that mean?

For an answer, we can turn to The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. The short, to-the-point grammar guide has become a common component of English 101.

Regarding the word “hopefully,” the writers proclaim: “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.”

Well, then, call me a silly bastard. Apparently, I’ve been using the word incorrectly. But then again, maybe not:

“Grammarians, get a grip,” says writer Constance Hale in her grammar guide titled Sin and Syntax. “‘Hopefully’ as a sentence adverb is here to stay.”

All right, now I’m hopelessly confused.

It’s no wonder so many writers go berserk. How can you unleash your inner creativity when you have to worry about misusing adverbs? And what the hell is an adverb, anyway?

“All adverbs,” says Hale, “express either —”

Never mind; I don’t care anymore. The rules are too confusing. Hopefully, I can find something better to do with my time — like being cryogenically frozen.

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