There Used to Be This Book Full of Word Definitions Called a Dictionary

Hopefully, Dick Clark knew the Titanic was real.

Earlier this week, the AP Stylebook—the Baedeker of arcane rules for the journalism industry—announced that it was caving to popular opinion and would no longer consider the use of “hopefully” to mean “It is hoped” substandard. In copy-editing terms, this is the equivalent of a pope’s death, or maybe even a moon landing. Oh, I know, I know; I hear you grumbling “Who the f*** cares?” I care. Ben Yagoda cares. Everyone who employs words for a living should care, but hardly anybody does. I emailed a link of the announcement of this horrifying news to other copy-editor-types I know, including a young woman who works here at Philly Mag. Not only did she not care; she didn’t understand that “hopefully” ever meant anything but “it is hoped.” The news wasn’t just not news; it was incomprehensible to her. Sigh.

Meantime, Dick Clark—not Dick Cheney—died. Teenagers across America took to Twitter to ask “Who the hell is Dick Clark?” Just a few days earlier, these same kids (one assumes) had been astonished to discover, on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, that the Titanic had been a real, actual boat. Oh boy.

Megan Garber at the Atlantic took the occasion to get all “This sounds awful but it’s really not” on the subject of youthful ignorance, writing, “What the Dick Clark tweeters hint at, today, is the reappropriation of ignorance. These people refuse to be ashamed of the need to question something. On the contrary, they publicize their questioning.” Fine, Megan. But maybe you can explain to me why these young people will walk into my office and say, “Hey, what’s a ‘philistine’?” and stand beside me while I open my dictionary and look the definition up and read it to them. They have dictionaries. They just never think to look words up in them. Why bother? Someone else is sure to already know. They don’t even turn to UrbanDictionary.com, where the meaning of words is decided by popular vote. By that count, “hopefully” means anything that a bunch of semi-literate teenagers think it means, which happens to be “in a hopefull way.” Sic.

Megan went on: “So while it’s easy to make fun of the people who broadcast their ignorance, it’s much better to celebrate them. They’re a collective reminder that, with the world’s knowledge newly at our fingertips, the only thing worse than ignorance is indifference.” Yeah, right. No wonder the Encyclopedia Britannica’s print edition folded. Which brings us to Twictionary, in whose eyes I am “illtwitterate.” Fine, kids. Go have your damned fun. Just wait till the next time you hopefully come to my office to ask me what a philistine is.

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