Wednesday, February 10, 2010

WNW: Hopefully Unthawing

Today's WNW is one of those fun ones where we look at commonly misused words submitted by my trusty readers.

This one is so chronically misused that it's pretty much taken on the wrong definition in casual conversation. That said, I'd be hesitant to use it that way in professional writing.

Hopefully is an adverb, similar to slowly, happily, and randomly.

In other words, it's the manner in which something is done. Correct usage would be something like this:

Sarah looked up at her father hopefully as she handed him her birthday wish list.

But of course, we usually see things like:

Hopefully, we won't be late.

From a grammatical standpoint, that doesn't make much sense. No one is doing anything in a hopeful manner; the person speaking is merely wishing, hoping. But we aren't told how or in what manner they are hoping. So an adverb doesn't work there, but we use it that way in speech all the time.

(Picture another adverb there instead: Tenderly, we won't be late. Sure . . . that makes sense . . .)

To be honest, I'm sure I've used it "wrong" a lot in conversation myself. But you won't find hopefully used in any way but as an adverb in my novels or articles.

Because I'm a control freak like that.

This submission confused me at first. Why would anyone mix them up? But when I thought about them a little longer, I realized that I
have heard the two words mixed up myself, someone using concord when they mean concur:

Since we all concord, let's make the new rule official.

Not quite. I'm guessing the confusion is made by accidentally smooshing concur and accord into a single word.

Try concur: all acting or agreeing together.

Since we all concur, let's make the new rule official.

Champing/chomping at the bit
I learned a lesson on this one. I was so sure that
champing at the bit was wrong and that chomping on the bit was correct.

To make my point, I looked up champing in my favorite online dictionary (, and lo and behold, both words are used interchangeably with that very same phrase.

They're even linked together in the dictionary as alternatives.

So here's the interesting part: the OED doesn't list champing as a modern term. It was used with the same kind of definition ("chewing with vigorous action") until about 1880. But it doesn't even include chomping at all. Chomp is there as a modern term and "a widespread variant of champ."

Even though chomping on the bit sounds more natural to my ear (and, I'm guessing, to most modern ears), apparently it's a much more recent development in the language than champing on the bit, by a couple of hundred years.

Who knew? I sure didn't.

I must admit, I do giggle a bit when I hear unthaw.

The prefix UN- reverses something or states that an item or condition is NOT something, right?

Like UNdo (reverse the doing), UNwind (reverse the winding), UNsteady (something is NOT steady), or UNstirred (the batter or whatever is NOT stirred).

So what are you saying when you plan to UNTHAW something? Make it NOT thawed? So . . . you plan to FREEZE it? That would be reversing the thawing process, right? (Hence, my giggles.)

Prior to my digging this time, I'd thought that unthaw was a recent invention. Turns out that the first use of it was around 1598. (That's when Shakespeare was alive!).

But here's the clincher: it hasn't been considered standard usage since 1895 (more than a century ago!).

So I was right in that it's not considered correct, but I was wrong as to when it was first introduced into the language.

Considering that old Bill's family didn't even have freezers and refrigeration, I'm having a hard time figuring out why they'd use the word in the first place except in spring when the ponds would unthaw . . .

(Giggle. They'd technically "unthaw" around, oh Christmas, right?)


Unknown said...

You actually know people who use the word "concord"? And then they use it wrong?? I must run with an illiterate crowd.

Hopefully, their stupidity won't rub off on me.

Anonymous said...

Okay, the unthaw is pretty hilarious! ;) And I don't know how someone would use concord in place of concur. That just blows my mind.

Rebecca Blevins said...

"Unthaw", really? I hadn't heard that one before!

I admit, the "hopefully" one was new to me. I am embarrassed about that! I will still use it incorrectly though, I'm sure.

But "concord"? As in grapes? That one takes the cake.

The whole "champing at the bit" thing refers to horses originally, I imagine. I've always thought if it that way.

By the way, I'm going to purchase your book on grammar to use in my homeschooling lessons. I love your simple explanations!

Rebecca Blevins said...

And that's "of it that way", not "if it".

Mel Chesley said...

Hehe, I have caught myself saying unthaw a couple of times. Even now my spell check says it is wrong. I try to say thaw or defrost. Concord...I can't get over that. Is that the scientifical term? XD

Cranberryfries said...

I'm wondering if the person who submitted the concord word is pronouncing that word like concurd? or something like that? I can see it easier like that instead of saying conCORD.

Also that hopefully was so interesting. I tried to explain it to my husband and he kept asking me if I was sure that was right. I had to explain to him that just because everyone says it and it's commonplace now doesnt make it right. Haha

Fascinating as always!

LisAway said...

Interesting as always. I'm mostly just shocked that an incorrect term such as unthaw (which I have heard) is considered standard usage. It's like overexaggerate being considered anything but funny. (the word itself is an exaggeration!) Silly English speakers!

Also, where you substituted tenderly for hopefully, switch it for "MERCIFULLY, we won't be late!" Got that one from the dictionary. So hopefully isn't the only "misused" adverb! (or thankfully would be even more common)

LisAway said...

I just read Mistress's comment and maybe that's part of why people use unthaw: because the other term is defrost so there's sort of a mixup of negating the wrong word?

Annette Lyon said...

Lisa, That's a really good point--"defrost" doesn't make much sense when you break it down either.

Debbie, I think you're right--they were hearing "concord" pronounced with the emphasis on the last syllable, like cun-CHORD.

Kristina P. said...

I definitely use "hopefully" in that manner. Hopefully, I won't do it again.

And I've never even heard of the concord one. I'm so confused.

Wonder Woman said...

I use "hopefully" incorrectly all the time. Really, it should be part of a script.

Jane: (hopefully) Maybe she'll be on time!

Unthaw cracks me up!

Melanie Jacobson said...

Ahhh....unthaw is one of my favorites.

CountessLaurie said...

Honestly, I use "hopefully" like that all the time!

(I am writing a post and caught myself dangling "honestly" out there and immediately thought of this post. You have invaded my mind. Pay no attention to the dustballs in there :-)

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Great points! It makes perfect sense when you write about it. I wish I had your editor in my head. :)

Jessica G. said...

I am guilty of misusing "Hopefully." I sincerely apologize to that beloved adverb and hope we can have a better understanding of one another in the future.
(And I spent a rather small amount at and got a bunch of those books!)

Karlene said...

But unthaw is such a fun word!

Funny how that one doesn't bother me in conversation, but things like "lighted" instead of "lit" is like fingernails on the chalkboard to me.

Amber Lynae said...

I am guilt of the misuse of hopefully. And as I kid I struggled with thaw/unthaw. I got it straight after a while. I'm not sure what cause the initial mix up though.

Jami said...

I say unthaw often. (Hello, Midwest upbringing.) Hopefully, I will stop.

Defrost still works when you break it down, because you are removing frost crystals in your freezer. The microwave melts the frost on your hamburger.


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