Date: Tue, 30 Apr 1996 08:39:28 -0400


Subject: Re: I wish I may, I wish I might (revisited)

No, I'm not revisiting myself. but I thought the participants in our earlier

discussion might (and indeed MAY) be interested to know that it's the topic of

this week's Safire "On Language" column, under the header "May Day! Might

Day!" What set him off was a comment by Mortimer Zuckerman, editor in chief

of the U.S. News & World Report, that a certain Whitewater report "may well

have been written in invisible ink for all the attention it has had." In the

process of casting his semantic nets thither and yon for awhile, Safire refers

to Zuckerman's "misuse of MAY", which should have been "MIGHT". I suppose

it's just the prescriptivist version of the split we observed, with Safire

(like most of us) among the old fogeys and Zuckerman (although he presumably

can't use age as an excuse) among the innovators.

Ah, the rule-makers and rule-defenders: we know that without them language

would surely fall into anarchy! But should we scold Safire for using the

phoneticized English version of the French "m'aider" just to get an

attention-grabbing headline? Such purists must know that language and its

rules never change...He might have been indicating a celebratory feeling

about the fertility and burgeoning of language since the capital letters

might be an allusion to tomorrow's more pagan festivities...Yes, that may

well be.

Forgive: I haven't had time to write in months!