Although I graduated from college almost 30 years ago, I still say I AM an English major rather than I WAS an English major. That self-identification is probably indicative of why I enjoy usage manuals like The Elements of Style by Strunk and White entirely too much.
Thinking about writing on this month’s theme of Hope, I kept coming back to this passage:
Hopefully. 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. To say “Hopefully I’ll leave on the noon plane” is to talk nonsense. Do you mean you’ll leave on the noon plane in a hopeful frame of mind? Or do you mean you hope you’ll leave on the noon plane? Whichever you mean, you haven’t said it clearly. Although the word in its new, free-floating capacity may be pleasurable and even useful to many, it offends the ear of many others, who do not like to see words dulled or eroded, particularly when the erosion leads to ambiguity, softness, or nonsense.
You probably say this sort of thing all the time. I know I do. But I continue to rigorously edit it out of my writing. I don’t like to see words “dulled [and] eroded,” and I like to see theological virtues dulled and eroded even less!
The Catechism tells us that all human virtues derive from the three theological virtues you’ll remember from that oft-quoted passage in Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: “There are but three things that last: faith, hope, and love.” So hope is a pretty big deal, not a word to be tossed around lightly.
Here’s some of what the Catechism says about Hope:
1817 Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. . . . 1818 The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.
And that’s only a tiny bit of the big meaning packed into this little word.
In discussing Hope, it’s also instructive to recall that its opposite–Despair, which in the Latin literally means “to be hopeless”–has traditionally been associated with the one unforgivable sin. This complete failure of Hope, to the point that we cease to believe in the possibility of our eternal salvation, is no more identical to sadness or depression than is the theological virtue of Hope to our future expectations of making that plane!
In this Easter season, as we continue to celebrate Christ conquering sin and death and securing salvation for us, let us not say, “Hopefully, I am living so as to go to Heaven one day!” but rather “I am living hopefully so that I will go to Heaven one day!”