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Brandon Robshaw: English Usage #18

Bin-drinks/I Might

A neighbour recently asked if we'd like to meet for "bin-drinks" over the Christmas period. Isn't that a great new coinage? It means, obviously, having drinks in the front garden next to the wheelie-bins. Of course, we accepted the invitation. Who would turn down bin-drinks? It makes me want to invite the whole neighbourhood over just so I can use that expression. Can't help feeling rather sad that it will lapse into disuse when the covid-crisis is over...

Meanwhile, here's an interesting usage I've been noticing recently – mostly because I use it a good deal myself. It's the deployment of "might" to mean will, shall or going to. For example: "I might stop off and have a pint while I'm there." Or: "I might finish the curry that's in the pan." Or: "I might knock off work for the day now."

In all these cases I am absolutely going to do the thing proposed; there's no doubt about that. But saying that I might do it sounds more polite, somehow. More tentative, more reasonable, less of an egotistical statement of intent. I'm not the only person who uses might in this way. My wife does too. Is this widespread? And is it a recent phenomenon, or has it been going on for ages and I've only just noticed?

Dr Brandon Robshaw lectures for the Open University in Philosophy, Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. He has written several children’s books including a philosophical YA novel, The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers. He and his family starred in BBC2’s Back in Time for Dinner. You can find his website here.


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