A couple of years ago, in the course of reviewing entries for the fifth edition of the dictionary, I stumbled across our entry for hope and realized that there was something odd about it. In the fourth edition, the primary noun sense for hope was given as A wish or desire accompanied by confident expectation of its fulfillment. But of course someone who says “I hope the weather is nice for our picnic tomorrow” is almost certainly not “confidently expecting” nice weather—in fact, such a sentence usually expresses a high degree of uncertainty as to the outcome.
Our definition of hope didn’t come out of nowhere. It was in accord with many other lexicographers’ definitions of the word, stretching back all the way to Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary (Expectation of some good; an expectation indulged with pleasure), and it nicely encapsulated one of the word’s historic meanings—a meaning that may be familiar to some readers from the text of the funeral service in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1662), which speaks of the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection.” But our definition was clearly out of step with modern usage, in which hope doesn’t suggest confidence in a desired outcome, but only a belief that the desired outcome is at least possible. (One would never say something like “I hope I sprout wings tomorrow,” unless one’s grip on reality were very tenuous.)
After much discussion, we agreed on a revised definition of hope for the fifth edition: The longing or desire for something accompanied by belief in the possibility of its occurrence.
—Peter Chipman, Editor
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