The question comes and goes, repeats itself: the questions that matter are always repeated. And yet when they ask me what would be the prettiest word in the language, I don’t answer — as a coward, I suppose — but I usually think that I wish. Hopefully the word is illusion, a sigh of hope, eyes that light up — and those echoes. “I hope the constant gaze ends, / the precise word, the perfect smile. / Hopefully something happens that will erase you suddenly… ”. Sometimes the word hopefully seems condemned to that song, a great bolero, pure resentment in love, hatred of the good and the Cuban. But it is in so many other corners, and in all it is a flash.
The word hopefully is a stir of various Castilians: a desert air and that jota. The jota de ojalá can be so different depending on where it is said, from the scratchy gargle of Castilla to the slight aspiration of the Caribbean, passing through all the intermediate gradations —and ending, to the south of the south, in that hopefully that comes out without an accent.
Hopefully it’s so southern: one of those parts where people are said to feel more than they think. The English and the French, so apparently serious, have no equivalent word. They resort to banal expressions: I wish, I hope, hopefully, j’espère, where there is no strange power that decides but subjects that pretend. The Italians and the Portuguese, on the other hand, as ominous as we are, they do say let’s hope O will take.
And hopefully it defines us but, above all, it reminds us that we were not always what we are, what we think we are, what they told us. Hopefully, of course, it’s pure Arabic: at first it was law šá lláh, says the Academy, which meant “God willing.” Hopefully it is asking something from those dark forces, begging whoever you can. It is the idea of wanting something that who knows: the opposite of believing that because you want something you are going to get it. Because you want something you may not get it, because the world is too complicated to be sure. Hopefully — to say hopefully — is a way of saying the smallness of each person, the impossibility of controlling this chaos of causes and effects in which we live and suffer.
But it is not easy to live with that idea. For a long time the abyss was too deep to bear and many, out of sheer fright, called it god. So, when someone wanted something, they would ask one of those masters: may Allah want it. Now the world is more secular: religion is increasingly limited to the most unhappy, those who have more reasons to hope than the nonsense in which they live makes some sense, that a great father takes them out of the swamp. Many of us believe that we no longer ask a god for anything, and it is almost true. Now it seems to us that saying hopefully is not submitting our wishes to an almighty father but to chance, even more powerful but less evil: we say hopefully and, when we say it, we wish for luck and things are as we would like. Chance has no ideas, it has no morality, it has no priests, it does not pretend to tell us what to do; he just takes us and brings us with his usual disdain.
The funny thing is that, in this almost secular world, when we say hopefully the language betrays us and we pray to a god again. Which is not, to make matters worse, the one who commanded the Hispanics during the last five centuries but another, his cousin and enemy, as bossy as the one who did. He is “another god”, and it is funny to think of generations and generations of iron-clad Catholics praying to the opposite god, the god of their infidels. The tongue has those ways of making fun of those who think they use it.
I wish, then, it is cochineo, and I wish there were many words like this: words that remind us that there is no purity, that we are in the mix, that we say much more than what we think we say. That to speak is to surrender to a much more complex system, to its chances; that one never quite knows what he says: that to speak is always to whisper hopefully —and see what happens.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.