Today, the AP Stylebook has set America on a course toward ruin. A tweet this morning from @APStylebook read “Hopefully, you will appreciate this style update, announced at
#aces2012. We now support the modern usage of hopefully: it's hoped, we hope.” This is a travesty. “Hopefully” should mean only “in a hopeful manner,” e.g. “I waited for the announcement hopefully.”
I try not to be one of those people that corrects other people’s speech too often, and I use “hopefully” in the sense of “I hope” all the time when I’m talking. But official, written journalism is a different animal. When you use “hopefully” in speech, everyone always knows what you mean. When you use it in print, it only adds confusion. Even the AP’s tweet is confusing: they write “Hopefully, you will appreciate…” when no one in her right mind would write “We hope, you will appreciate.” But omit the comma and the sentence literally means “In a hopeful manner, you will appreciate this style update,” or “While appreciating this style update, you will be hopeful.” Usage both with and without a comma after can potentially confuse the reader and reduce understanding, which is why AP’s decision is so terrible.
It is the same problem with accepting “email” rather than “e-mail,” as the AP Stylebook did last year. Omitting the hyphen obscures that the E stands for something (electronic) and that mail can be non-electric. Instead, the word becomes the very weird “email.” I would not be surprised if this decision has led to confusion among older Americans, new English learners, and English speakers in parts of the world where using a computer isn’t an every day thing.
I admit that these decisions are minor and will mostly be fine, but both serve to obscure understanding and increase confusion (as does, for example, the AP’s decision not to use Oxford commas). “Hopefully” is not more easily understood than “it is hoped”; it’s just a lazy and unthinking alternative. It's fine when you're speaking casually, but not fine when you're writing professionally. No reader will benefit from the change, and the rare one may be confused. The only ones who benefit are slacking writers.