February 11th, 2004
Pronouncing February / hopefully
by Barbara Wallraff
Judy Kline, of Clawson, Mich., writes, “How is the current month correctly pronounced? ‘Feb-roo-ary’ or ‘Feb-yoo-ary’? My adult daughters and I disagree.”
What a perfect subject for a family quarrel! All six major contemporary American dictionaries give both pronunciations. Some put the “yoo” pronunciation first; others put “roo” first. Most include a usage note about pronunciation, explaining that the “roo” pronunciation is traditionally regarded as correct but that the “yoo” pronunciation is increasingly common among people at all levels of education. So there’s plenty to be said in favor of either point of view.
Donna Stevens, of Kingston, Ontario, writes, “The adverb ‘hopefully’ seems to have incorporated itself into our language in an incorrect way. For example: ‘Hopefully, my boss will give me a day off to go to the concert.’ A boss wouldn’t give a day off ‘hopefully,’ or full of hope. A person would search for a job hopefully. I guess people are using ‘hopefully’ instead of ‘I hope.’ I have a problem with this, but I can never really explain the problem to friends. Am I wrong?”
No, you’re not. No one would ever think of using many other adverbs the way you’ve used “hopefully” in your example. Imagine, for instance, that you’re eager for your boss to give you the day off: “Eagerly, my boss will give me a day off”? Or maybe you’re afraid he won’t: “Fearfully, he may not give me a day off.” How absurd! The traditional wisdom about adverbs is that they are supposed to modify a verb (“I listened to the music happily”), an adjective (“a wonderfully attentive audience”), or another adverb (“He played extremely quickly”—or “extremely fast,” for not all adverbs end in “-ly”). “Hopefully” in your example doesn’t do any of these things.
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.