He might! He might!
I’ve gone searching for a word, and instead I found a great candidate for President of the United States! And we’ve still got 24 hours left before we vote. Talk about serendipity!
Do you remember that I asked you in early September whether you thought we “might” have lost the word “might”? It seemed everyone around me was misusing the word “may” to mean possibility or likelihood. Losing a simple, functional word from our language is tantamount to losing a species from our earth. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and there’s really no substitute for it. The fewer words we have at our disposal for clear, correct, finely nuanced communication, the less our communication will be clear, correct and nuanced. Simply, we humans communicate with words. We can’t afford to lose our words any more than we can blissfully lose our teeth or our hair or our children.
I first rang the alarm on September 2, pointing out that “might” seemed to have given way to “may,” leaving us no word to mean “possible” or “likely.” Then on October 10 in my article called “Let’s Take Stock,” I reported that I had been watching and listening for correct usage of the word “might.” I came up completely empty! I neither heard nor read the word “might” to express possibility, chance or likelihood. It was “may” all the way. I was inconsolable. (I do hope you remember that.)
Well, November rolled around, and I decided to conduct a very scientific study of the subject. For 72 hours I simply made a little check mark on a paper every time I discovered “may” incorrectly pinch hitting for “might,” whether in a book or magazine, on my computer screen, or on TV. The results were deplorable. But something totally unexpected happened: My research uncovered a bona fide candidate for President of the United States who knows when to use “may” and when to use “might.”
We still have one day left until the election, so read carefully and vote accordingly.
Before I name my candidate (and this is absolutely real and legitimate), let me give you the sad results of my scientific study:
· In 72 hours I found “may” used 35 times. “May” was used when “might” would have been the correct word 31 out of 35 times. That’s an 84% failure rate.
· Here are just a few sorry samples from my demoralizing 72 hours:
o In 40 minutes of reading Time magazine, I encountered “may” used incorrectly eight times.
o On a really interesting blog about communication, I found “may” incorrectly used three times in one paragraph.
o In one small information packet sent me by the University of Washington, I found eight “mays” that should have been “mights.” And I don’t go looking for these things, folks. They jump off the page and slap me upside the head.
· Twice I encountered the correct use of “might.” Twice in 72 hours I encountered that word.
As you might surmise, my candidate for president (and you might – not may – actually encounter his name on your ballot) was one of the winners. He used “might” when 84% of the linguistic deplorables around him would have incorrectly chosen “may.” Yes, in the November 7 issue of Time (that’s today, by the way), I read this Q and A in a little sidebar called “QuickTalk”:
· Question: Why are you putting yourself through this?
· Answer: We feared that if no one stood up for these principles, from the actual conservative side, they MIGHT be forgotten.
Yes, they MIGHT be forgotten. Yes, Evan McMullin of Utah, you got it right! And so I say, Evan McMullin for president! Evan McMullin to guide and protect our poor, withering English language! You did it, Mr. McMullin, when nobody else could!
So, what do we know about Evan McMullin besides that he’s running for president? Speaking for myself, very little, so I turned to Wikipedia and found a fascinating bio: McMullin was born in Provo, Utah, the oldest of four children. When he was young his family moved to a rural area outside Seattle Washingtonwhere his father worked as a computer scientist and his mother sold bulk foods to neighbors from the family's garage. After graduating high school in 1994 McMullin spent two years in Brazil as an LDS [Latter Day Saints] missionary. Upon returning he spent a summer working on an Alaskan fishing vessel.
In 1997 McMullin began attending Brigham Young University where he alternated semesters between school and working for the Central Intelligence Agency, which he had been interested in since childhood. He also spent a year living in Israel and Jordan and volunteered as a refugee resettlement officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In 2001 McMullin graduated with a Bachelor's degree in International Law and Diplomacy and began formal training with the CIA to become an undercover operative. He worked undercover in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia following 9/11 and left the CIA in 2010. In 2013, having earned an advanced degree, he became the senior advisor on national security issues for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and in 2015 he became the chief policy director of the House Republican Conference.
My gosh! The man has creds! And I thought all he knew was excellent word choice!
Now, you MIGHT not be able to vote for Mr. McMullin, because his name MIGHT not be on your ballot. But he sounds like a leader with great potential. I’m going to keep my eye on him. For today, I proclaim, Evan McMullin for president of our language! Thank you, Mr. McMullin. MAY you know great success in coming years! You just MIGHT be our president some day.
And to the voting public, I would like to add this: Please use “might” to refer to possibility, likelihood or chance. Save “may” for permission. Keep our language viable. It’s been a rough election season.