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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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April 18, 2012



The Pimsleur language program says there are more than 5,000 languages on earth, only 500 with a written component. This would argue that language is primarily a spoken activity; literacy is a relatively modern development.

Similarly, NPR reports in "The (Monkey) Business Of Recognizing Words" - - that speaking and reading use different brain areas.

One of my old college professors argued that there are actually four grammars: how people speak, how grammarians describe speech, how people write, and how grammarians describe writing. See "Not Just One but Four Grammars" - and Why That's Good" - - for details.

My point is that in topics such as "hopefully," we need to be careful about cart-and-horse issues. While those who "tut, tut" are judging the cart, most people are busy riding the horse bareback. As professional writers, we need to demonstrate that the best transportation employs both cart and horse in proper order.


Lynn, what a fascinating post!I had never before thought about how I was using the word "hopefully," and enjoyed reading this history of acceptable usage. Thanks for sharing!

This also reminds me of something my supervisor used to tell me when I worked in retail management and would tell her I "hoped" to have some specific sales results: "Hope is not a strategy."

Not grammar-related, but a useful piece of business advice all the same.


Can presently be far behind?


Oh, and I've already thrown in the towel on "impact."

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Les. Thanks for another very helpful comment. I have not yet clicked your links for more information, but I enjoy having them there to investigate when I have more time.

The point of the four grammars is very interesting!

Despite your vivid cart-and-horse metaphor, I am still going to hold back from using the newly acceptable "hopefully." I have been remembering to avoid it for too long. But I won't urge others to do so. We can each ride the train of language our own way.

Again, thanks for your thoughtful comment.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Leigh. I am glad you enjoyed the post and learned something from it.

Thanks for sharing "Hope is not a strategy." That's a good maxim for all of us in business.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Laura. No one every harped on me about "presently," so I haven't thought much about it.

"Impact" is a good one to watch. Does "throwing in the towel" mean you are already using it as a verb?

Thanks for commenting.



Yes, a transitive verb. Sigh. And the late John Bremner, my editing professor, would be dismayed to know that I also gave up on his mantra of "quality is not an adjective."

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Thanks for clarifying, Laura. I like the mantra too.


John Salter

There is also a cultural nuance.
I well remember doing some work in the Middle- East, and disagreeing with a business partner who told a client "hopefully we will finish by ". I said how we were committed to achieve the timeline and told the client our efforts would ensure success. My mistake was in not appreciating the meaning of "hopefully - i.e. "God willing". Hmmm, error.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, John. Thank you for sharing your story. "God willing" is an important phrase not to meddle with across cultures!


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