Your Second Biggest Little Word In The English Language

“I” is the first word. The almighty “I” by which all we I’s in the world view our world. It’s no accident that pride has been called the mother-of-all-sins. However, in recent generations there’s another big little word that could be the mother-of-all-confusion. “May.”

“May” is one of those handy terms which lets the speaker speak some of the boldest ideas and promises… but with a convenient backdoor way out of them. As in: “This remarkable new iphone MAY become the greatest single asset in your business.” Or: “This strong new regulation MAY stem the tide of Wall Street corruption.” Or my personal favorites: (1) “This medication MAY control your blood pressure and prevent heart disease” (2) “This medication MAY cause dizziness, headache, diarrhea, sudden blindness, rectal rash, loss of fingernails, thoughts of suicide, and in some cases death.”

Wow, this big little word lets us hedge on a multitude of grandiose promises and/or grudgingly admit this thing could kill you! And, as is always the case, the word “May” appears only in small print or is spoken only in small background commentary. Look, any lawyer will tell you the word can give both the promiser and admiter protection under the law. Say what…? Sorry, fellow laymen, but the law can be a funny thing. Very exact in the language; often very loose in any guarantees to the language. Lets see, I think it’s called “Caveat Emptor.”

This then is the two-edged sword gingerly used in a free-enterprise society. One edge has allowed bankers, businessmen, and politicians to slice wide paths of go-for-broke success [see J.P. Morgan, Donald Trump, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, American presidents for details]. Promise the buyer or voter the sky. Then with the other edge, shield yourself from ever being fully accountable.

Welcome to my world. Exciting place! Now how do I find my way out of it?

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