On the Namesake

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. Continue reading