Sunday, December 13, 2009

Just a might more English

This is #16 in my never ending series on English as I learned it growing up.

Today we'll examine a secondary usage of the word "might". Here's a good example from a song called "The Devil's Right Hand" by Steve Earle:

"....shoots as fast as lighting but she loads a might slow........."

The song is in reference to a pistol, and the complaint is that it's hard to load, so it has its limitations in a gun fight. Just so you know.

That is a tried & true, honorable, and (to me and mine) a very familiar usage of the word "might". You could have said "it loads a bit slowly", or "a little slow", and you would have expressed an idea in the same general realm, but would not be the same.

The usage of "might" this way almost always include an "a" before it, and more importantly, the usage is almost always an understatement, irony or out right sarcasm, used to make a point.

If someone describes someone as "a might peckish...." that would be a good person to avoid, either on a specific topic or in general, depending on the context. Unless you seek out conflict.

Maybe I'll discuss peckish later.


wngl said...

In my feeble reasoning, I've always spelled it "mite" in these contexts, like "Without caffeine, my brain is a mite sluggish".

jakill said...

I was going to say what the last commenter did.

Now, could this be yet another difference between US and UK English?

A Valdese Blogger said...

wngl & jakill: could be, could be... but I think "mite" is actually a noun describing a parasite, like a dust mite or little things that infect plants or animal's ears. I think "might", used the way I described is at the very least akin to an auxiliary verb. It is a non-standard usage that I learned as a child. I could be wrong, but I always thought it was 'might', not mite. Y'all are making me think! Thanks for your comments!

linlah said...

My dad did mot ever load a gun a might slow and a lot of gophers suffered for it and so did I!

Jude said...

I grew up in the South and all the expressions we used sounded perfectly fine until I moved away and people started making fun of the way I talked. Then when Jeff Foxworthy started poking fun I realized exactly how I must have sounded.

A Valdese Blogger said...

linlah: Pore ol' gophers

Jude: I've lived many years north of the Ohio River with people "taking note" of the way I pronounced things or some of the ways I said things. But I'm here to bear witness that people around Baltimore, people around Minneapolis, people around Chicago & lots of other places up north have very pronounced accents, regionalisms and ways of saying things, and are just as provincial as anybody anywhere. And speaking of Jeff Foxworthy, there's lots of redneck front yards around here - I should send him a picture or two lol!