Saturday, April 14, 2012


I WAS watching a local documentary featuring blue whales sighted in Camiguin Norte.

I found the young documentarists as exotic as the whales they were studying.

One fellow, with an endless, complex hairstyle and all kinds of adornment weighing down his neck and wrists, was narrating how their photos and videos were turned over to scientists studying the whales.

This documentation) may help us understand and co-exist with the whales better, he said and added: “hopefully”.

Before I heard him use this word, I had been watching more his bracelets and necklaces than listening to his commentary. (Born in a different, more bloodthirsty age, he would have been wearing the trophies from his kills, rather than wearing shellfish and beads and chatting about conservation.)

By capping his statement in that manner, this new-age warrior made me think of how we use language to fulfill our world view.

I believe no one elsewhere uses “hopefully” as hopefully as a Filipino.

Ask a Filipino contemplating a desired future or end—graduation, employment or courtship—and the adverb is invariably tacked on after a favorable prediction of attainment, as if to neutralize too much confidence and not to tempt the fates. “I will get her consent… hopefully.”

This elliptical arrangement—“hopefully” never precedes, always follows obsequiously like an afterthought that dislikes to offend—is intended to: take the first step of commitment by admitting desire; follow up by asserting that one has done everything humanly possible to win the desired; and lastly, take a step backward in not discounting that a Supreme Force decides the final outcome for it may compromise destiny to be too cocky.

Trust a Filipino to adopt a mistake and turn it into something else.
According to English language experts, it is improper to use “hopefully” as a sentence adverb.

The American Heritage Dictionary notes that critics are “adamantly opposed” to the use of “hopefully,” whether to mean expectation of a positive turnout or a bald statement of the desired.

Why couldn’t that eco-warrior have said, “I hope the scientists use our documentary to understand better the whales”?

It is certainly shorter. Yet, in his place, if I, too, had spent three days in the open seas, waiting for creatures of the deep to shatter that blue mirror into liquid splinters of fire, “hope” would not also be my first choice of verb to use.

Ernest Hemingway, who wrote short sentences, had no patience for adjectives and adverbs in the company of one strong verb.

I doubt, though, if persnickety grammar is at the root of our infatuation with “hopefully”. The young, with their hybrid ways of communicating, may be tweaking a fatalism that lies at the root of our world view.

My generation refers to the future with a cautionary expression of fatalism. “The whales will still be there, ‘puhon (God willing)’.”

Considering that my generation and the older ones have brought the whales closer to extinction, it may make sense to follow the example of the young: affirm the desire, do everything possible, and accept what comes next. Grammar experts might not like the outcome, but the whales might… hopefully.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s April 8, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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