Possibly Definitely | Bleader

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A writer named Jane E. Hughes contributed a heart-felt essay on Mel Gibson and antisemitism to the Thursday Chicago Tribune, but the only passage that made a big impression on me was a parenthetical remark two-thirds of the way through:

(Indeed, many blame Israel for Iran's rancor; Mel Gibson might undoubtedly agree.)

Hours later I was still asking myself: Who do we blame? The author? Or the unknown editor who let it go by — or possibly even introduced it, on the principle that a serious thinker must never sound too sure of herself.

Then I thought, why blame either? Perhaps we are all to blame. Society may be at fault. I googled the phrase "might undoubtedly."

In 0.09 seconds, Google responded with 34,600 results. It looks like the phrase has been around forever. For instance, here's Thomas Malthus in his first essay on Population in 1798. "Were it of consequence to improve pinks and carnations, though we could have no hope of raising them as large as cabbages, we might undoubtedly expect, by successive efforts, to obtain more beautiful specimens than we at present possess."

And here's the contemporary "love poet" Nikhil Parekh really putting the phrase through its pace in a poem he calls "Cursed Terrorism" that begins:

The bird of ghastly terrorism might undoubtedly fly all right; but without the most ethereal trace of direction; and miserably collapsing in its non-existent grave; as its decayed wings woefully crumbled mid-air...

What in Malthus might be an affectation and in Parekh might be trying to pass itself off as art is, in Jane E. Hughes, clearly meaningless. But when does language ever nullify itself more efficiently? That's something.

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