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24/06/2011 / melgardener

When maybe means yes, or no, or erm…maybe

As a spelling and grammar freak, I have a fabulous book at home to which I refer often. It’s called “The Essential Guide to English Usage” and, let me tell you, this little tome knows everything. For instance, today it tells me that the word maybe “is finding increasing favour as a synonym for perhaps”.

In my house, the word ‘maybe’ is increasingly bandied around like balls at a tennis match.

To be fair, the word ‘maybe’ is incredibly useful. It is a great hedge word; to be employed when you either don’t know the answer, or do know but don’t want to have to say. We even use it as a bribery word – to indicate to the children that their actions or behaviour have not yet met the
requirements set.

As parents, I’ve discovered that my husband and I use ‘maybe’ in very different ways and you’d think this would be confusing for the children but, not so, they have our measure.

I tend to use ‘maybe’ when I know the answer will be ‘yes’ but I don’t want to be seen to capitulate too early. This is a strategy I employ with open eyes, admitting quite freely that I’m the easy touch in the family.

My husband almost exclusively uses ‘maybe’ when he really means ‘no’ but doesn’t want to say it straight away. Back in another life, before children, this habit would (and still does) drive me crazy. ‘Maybe’ was used instead of ‘no’ with such monotonous regularity that it ended up defeating its purpose. I knew quite well that he was hiding behind the use of ‘maybe’ as a way of staying out of trouble – except that it had happened so often, he started getting in trouble for saying ‘maybe’ instead of just saying ‘no’ straight out.

This use of ‘maybe’ became a real point of contention in our relationship with me taking the moral high ground and asserting (to my shame, in a very supercilious manner) that he should simply say ‘no’ and be done with it. I accused him of not having the strength of character to stand up and say what he really thought instead of hiding behind the wishy-washy word ‘maybe’.

Unfortunately, I now find myself in the same position; ducking and weaving behind the word ‘maybe’ as a way of dealing with the children when I’m tired, cranky and just not up for another argument. Because I know full well that as soon as I say ‘no’ the next word out of their mouths will be ‘why?’ and sometimes I just don’t have a good enough reason to give them.

I’ve tried using ‘because’ but my canny 8 year old now says this is not good enough (wonder where she might have heard that?). I have days when I feel up to the task of mounting a convincing argument and will admit to sometimes employing the use of long and multi-syllabled words as a way of shutting down the debate. But, too often, I simply don’t have the energy.

“Mummy, are you done with your blog yet?”

“Maybe”.

Do you overuse the word ‘maybe’? Do you find it a useful or useless word?

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