“With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”

Stanley Fish tells us about how he called up AT&T to activate some services, and got the greeting above. At the end of the conversation:

… I couldn’t resist returning to the greeting, with its double and ungrammatical “with.” I explained that the second “with” was superfluous, as the second “to” would be if the offending question had been, “to whom am I speaking to?”, or the second “about” if the question had been “about what are you worrying about?”

Somehow that didn’t make much of an impression on her. She said that her instructions were to greet callers in that way and that she would continue to do so. I replied that it was scandalous that a multi-billion-dollar world-wide telecommunication corporation would order its employees to commit an egregious (and comical) grammatical error millions of times a day.

She said, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

I lost it. It has nothing to do with feelings, I ranted. It is a factual matter as to what is and is not syntactically correct.

Delightfully anal—and like so many interactions with call-center employees, completely futile. But Fish did get a column out of it, and that’s good.


Language snobbery can be immense fun, but it can also get tiresome to those on the receiving end of it. I recently wrote to a friend of mine, “Hopefully the publishing industry [in India] won’t be too badly affected by the economic downturn.” He wrote back to berate me for using “hopefully” instead of “I hope”, and said, “People should not say ‘Hopefully the weather will be good today’ when they actually mean ‘I hope the weather will be good today.’ I expected better from a professional writer.”

Well, I expected better from a language snob. This is actually a fashionable complaint, but an entirely baseless one. It cropped up in another discussion I was part of in an email group a couple of weeks ago, and I settled the matter by citing Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word:

2  : it is hoped : I hope : we hope


hopefully the rain will end soon>

usage In the 1960s the second sense of hopefully, which dates to the early 18th century and had been in fairly widespread use since at least the 1930s, underwent a surge in popularity. A surge of criticism followed in reaction, but the criticism took no account of the grammar of adverbs. Hopefully in its second sense is a member of a class of adverbs known as disjuncts. Disjuncts serve as a means by which the author or speaker can comment directly to the reader or hearer usually on the content of the sentence to which they are attached. Many other adverbs (as interestingly, frankly, clearly, luckily, unfortunately) are similarly used; most are so ordinary as to excite no comment or interest whatsoever. The second sense of hopefully is entirely standard.

So there it is. Hopefully you won’t ever try to explain to an AT&T call center worker what a disjunct is. Ok?