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Monday, May 13, 2013

Hopefully, You Will Get Smarter ... And Shall Laugh About It

Ah ... humor. I enjoy it. I like hearing good jokes and funny stories. I even tell them sometimes (mostly involving wordplay ... puns!)

But humor doesn't always work, depending on the context, the audience, and other factors. As I've learned after making a pun, that attempt at humor can sometimes distract listeners from the main message or weaken the message, perhaps even the credibility of the speaker.

For me, my wordplay usually happens when I'm talking, not often when I'm writing. If I make a pun while writing, it's usually for a headline--as a way to attract attention to an article. For better or worse, I don't write much funny stuff for this blog.

I'm writing briefly about humor here because I read a blog article today--by  Patrick Lockerby in Science 2.0--that I enjoyed because of its humor. But I also thought Lockerby got so involved in trying to be funny that his main message--the point of his article--was weakened. I could see some readers giving up on the blog article because it was taking too long for them to get the writer's point.

(I should admit that my discussion of humor here also delays my comments on Lockerby's main point. I also should point out that I don't regularly read his blog, called The Chatter Box. Perhaps regular readers would expect and appreciate his humor.)

Anyway, to get to the point of that blog item, Lockerby was commenting on the use of hopefully and shall, will. I think I liked what he wrote about using hopefully at the start of a sentence. But I disagree with his comments on using shall and will interchangeably.

I hope you'll enjoy Lockerby's way of describing those words, from his point of view. But for a more straightforward approach, here's how I describe using those words in Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual:
hopefully Ignore the rapidly dwindling number of style gurus who think it is incorrect to modify the meaning of an entire sentence by beginning it with the adverb hopefully. As other style experts note, adverbs such as apparently, fortunately and obviously are already used correctly to modify entire sentences. And hopefully can be used that way too! Thus, go ahead and use hopefully to mean "it is hoped, let us hope, we hope" or "I hope" when describing feelings toward the entire sentence: Hopefully, the war will end quickly with few civilian casualties.
Hopefully may also be used to mean "hopeful or with hope or in a hopeful manner" when describing how the subject of a sentence feels: Hopefully, the dog sat by the dinner table. (The dog is hopeful.) Hopefully, Carlos emailed his request for a vacation. (Carlos is hopeful.)
shall Avoid this formal, ambiguous, pretentious word:
  • Try dropping use of any pronoun.
  • Use is when something is fact: The senior editor is [not shall beresponsible for reviewing all documents for clarity and consistency.
  • Use may instead to give permission: Members may borrow up to three CDs a month.
  • Use must instead to express legal obligation: Tenants must pay rent by the 15th of each month.
  • Use have to, must, need to or required instead to express other requirements: Each student is required to take the exam.
  • Use should when recommending a course of action: We should move ahead with the project by Friday.
  • Use will instead to express what someone plans to do or expects: I will be there. We will meet. You will like it. She will not be pleased.
The shall entry also includes style manual links to other uses of the alternative words mentioned above: See can, maymay, mightshould, wouldwill, would.

Lockerby's article is featured today, May 13, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

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