Might you have Lost this Word? Seriously?

Another good word bites the dust

Or so it seems. Having been virtually dropped now in modern parlance in favor of a closely related word that does not mean exactly the same thing, we are left again with a little less precision and a little more fog.

Back in the very recent past (say 5-10 years ago), a reasonably educated American knew the difference between “may” and “might.” [Shall we stop right here and give you a chance to recall the difference? I suspect many of you know it.]

The former, “may,” refers to permission, the latter, “might,” to possibility or likelihood. Closely related, they had unique purposes and applications, to wit:

·      You may go to the playground for one hour. (permission granted)

·      I might have to call you home a little early though. (possibility of change)

·      You might consider taking your little brother along. (likelihood, although you and I know it’s pretty unlikely, right?)

·      May I invite Emma to go along instead? (permission sought)

[Say, how did you like that “to wit” above? Pretty cool, huh? Pretty old fashioned. Awfully useful though.]

Anyway, back to “may” and “might.” So, which good, solid word has now been kicked to the curb? The mighty little “might.” Recently “may” has been forced into double duty in every corner. Politicians, television news talkers (many are not, in my book, “journalists,” but just talkers) and often your man on the street consistently use “may” to signal possibility or likelihood:

·      “You may lose your job.”

·      “The state may have to prosecute.”

·      “Eleven are known dead, and there may be more casualties.”

Good grief! What’s so difficult about having two words in your pocket instead of one? You MIGHT lose your job – it’s a likelihood, not something for which you need permission. The state MIGHT have to prosecute. There MIGHT be more casualties.

And why does it matter? Precision! Nuance! Clarity! Oh, our beloved American English language – where is it headed?

Might you add a note of your own on this subject or another closely related matter? You certainly may feel free to do so.