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Kategorien/Categories:    ›Sprachkultur/Language culture‹  ›EN‹   –  05.12.2011


“Maybe” is such an inconspicuous little word, yet it looms large in our everyday communication.  While it is, for some, the essence of non-commitment, and for others an expression of doubt, positive thinkers like to focus on its inherent aspect of the here and now.  A taste of Zen, then?

Maybe signThe other day I encountered a billboard with this message and I have to admit - I was intrigued. Obviously, the ad worked, even though I have not the faintest clue what it was advertising. In any case, I was struck by the simple transformation of this common five-letter word. How easy it seemed to turn a vague possibility into a definite reality by eliminating just three letters.

Of course, all things are relative and “maybe” also works as a great tool to practice equanimity and open-mindedness, as the following story illuminates:

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically. "Maybe," the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed. "Maybe," replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "Maybe," answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "Maybe," said the farmer. (found on Zen stories to read your neighbors)

Merriam-Webster has this to say about the little word that can mean so much:
Maybe:  short for “it may be”. Used when you are talking about an action that has a chance of happening in the future. 
Synonyms: conceivably, perhaps, mayhap, perchance, possibly.

The conundrum between “maybe” and “being” invariably triggers another association, perhaps the Bard’s most famous soliloquy of them all:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them [….]
[….] Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,
And thus the Native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o'er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
With this regard their Currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action.

So, perhaps (!) old Hamlet had it right: let’s take the “maybe” out of our lives and just be.