ALTHOUGH hypothetical statements often precede disappointing absences of fulfillment, it would be unfair to heap any blame on hypothetical statements in general, for they occupy one of the more magical places in the English language. They invite neither the dull incontrovertibly of fact nor the sorrowful impossibility of fiction. They straddle the numinous threshold of Yea and Nay, and we would do well to ponder that.
Two of the most common hypothetical adverbs are maybe and perhaps. We tend to think of the former as casual, even childish, and the latter as grave and stately. But the pen of a master is above such petty conventions. Consider these words of J. R. R. Tolkien: “For this is the Ring of Fire, and herewith, maybe, thou shalt rekindle hearts to the valour of old in a world that grows chill.” Thanks to the writings of the other R. R. fellow (George R. R. Martin), I have become familiar with mayhaps, a delightful merger of the two adverbs that calls one to examine the possibilities of perbe. But while I admire the logic of filling in the last remaining corner of the may-be-per-haps quadrant, I must award the honour of my favourite hypothetical adverb to peradventure. Peradventure is just foreign enough to sound exotic – what does an adventure have to do with it? – but just familiar enough to call to mind “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” and it grows clearer. Peradventure means one is acting by means of venture, and ventures are perilously uncertain things.
The translators of the King James Bible peradventure often. We see it as Abraham dares to bargain with God for the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrah: “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there” (Gen. 18: 32). We see it as a prophet of the Lord indulges in a little humour at the expense of the prophets of Baal: And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, “Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked” (I Kings 18: 27). And we see it in the New Testament, as St. Paul explains to the Romans the undeserved and unlikely grace of the Gospel: For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5: 7-8).
This should suffice for the word. But what about the punctuation? I choose the ellipses because the three little dots seem to fit very well with the curious and uncertain excitement of peradventure. For a period is bland. An exclamation mark would soon grow stale, appearing at the top of the page day after day. A question mark is a bit more fitting, but why ask a question when the answer is already known? (Yes, Virginia, there is a possibility.) And a comma, despite the sleek marketing of the United Church of Christ’s “God is still speaking,” campaign, is simply a horrid way to end anything. So the three little dots it is.