Mayhap or mishap or snafu

Mayhap is an archaic way to say maybe or perhaps. It is an adverb in construction. It does not have a plural and should not be written as mayhaps. It has largely been replaced by other words, including those used to define it, like maybe and perhaps.

mishap is an accident or unfortunate coincidence. The plural is mishaps. 

snafu, on the other hand, is a hard or complicated problem or the mistake that causes the confusing problem. The plural is snafus. It was coined in the 1940s as an acronym for ‘situation normal all fouled up’. It should be noted that this term is used mainly in the United States in informal situations.


Mayhap a superpartner particle can be found lurking in this profusion by, say, 2017. [The Hindu]

Who knows? Mayhap the Gray Lady can give Snowden a blog from which he can lecture readers about privacy rights, as he did in a recent Christmas greeting video. [SF Gate]

An Oak Forest man died Monday after he became pinned between two vehicles in a towing mishap on the Northwest Side. [NBC Chicago]

This takes the number of officers facing action — mainly in the shape of court martial — to well over 30 for the string of warship and submarine mishaps since July 2013. [Times of India]

The owner of Rotterdam Square Mall is blaming National Grid for a billing snafu that reportedly nearly resulted in the shopping center’s utility service being cut this past weekend. [Albany Business Review]

Voting snafus are a perennial national embarrassment that have persisted even after the painful debacle of the 2000 presidential election. [Boston Globe]

11 thoughts on “Mayhap or mishap or snafu”

    • You would expect a grammarist to use “such as” instead of “like” in that construction, but sometimes one falls prey to current conversational usage. That is part of the evolving nature of language. That particular “error” is minor compared to many that occur, most of which will unfortunately become part of the standard language. After all, “ain’t” no longer ain’t in the dictionary. I occasionally use it along with “gonna,” “kinda,” and “sorta” when speaking or writing to other educated people who do the same thing. We know the correct words, but we try to be conversational or humorous sometimes. Such usage by educated people almost guarantees that those terms will become standard in the future.

      Grammar purists in almost every language hate such usage, but they’re fighting a losing battle. Having gained fluency in French many years ago, I’ve seen more recent usage online that would’ve really upset my French teachers in school.

      Like in (LOL: As in) many older languages (Latin -> Romance languages), the object or accusative case is replacing the subject or nominative case. French already uses prepositional pronouns as disjunctive rather than subject pronouns in some places. Thus, “Qui, moi?” (“Who, me?”) instead of “Qui, je?” (“Who, I?”) and “Moi, je veux ça.” (“Me, I want that.”). No wonder less-educated or careful people say “Me and Bob went there.” or “Me and him went there.”. They even reverse the correct order of the subject nouns and pronouns. It happens and it will eventually be considered acceptable, whether we like it or not.

      What bothers me is the possibility in the future that people will actually forget what words some of current computer-related or other acronyms represent and just picture the meanings in their minds. However, I suspect that is one way (that) the English language will gradually evolve. And, yes, I threw in the “LOL” above to be humorous. By the way, your treatment of “SNAFU” was excellent.

      • While I cannot disagree with anything you wrote, I must admit that I am among those grieved by many of the linguistic changes of the past few decades. I understand English is a living language, and that stagnancy is too often synonymous with death, but at the same time I think that there are different ways a language can change.

        At the positive end of the spectrum are the newly coined words that come from innovation (such as ’email’, and ‘cellular’), from scientific discovery (‘cybernetics’, ‘boson’), and from cross cultural contact (from ‘K-pop’, relatively new, to older borrowings such as ‘café’ and ‘kindergarten’). At least as important are words that come into the language from literature (‘chortle’, ‘utopia’, ‘robot’, and many more).

        Language should be able to grow and change, because if it doesn’t, then those who speak it, and who are restricted in their communication to the language, will be able to neither grow nor change. This is where I differ from the true language purists– I don’t want English to stagnate, nor do I have the hubris to believe the language I speak today to be the highest pinnacle it can reach.

        That said, not all changes enrich language. Too often we allow ignorance and laziness to pull language down to its lowest common denominator. Such things as ignoring subject-verb agreement and the incorrect use of pronouns may now make the speaker or writer sound sloppy or uneducated, but if they do gradually become the norm, as you predict, the language will be cheapened.

        A good example in English is the loss of the second person singular form. No one uses it anymore and perhaps no one misses it, but at the same time we still think the English spoken and written in Shakespeare’s day sounds better, and is somehow at a higher level, than modern English– hence the continued popularity of the King James Bible and the “traditional” Our Father from Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer. [Thou knowest I have the right of it!]

        I think that, when you write of purposely using very colloquial forms of speech with friends, you are doing something very different. Your use of ain’t and of gonna and so on are being used in a particular context by (and to) someone who understands the context. The words used that way aren’t pretending to be standard English (as if such standards even existed now), and the ain’t gonna hurt nobody anyhow .

        Another real risk to our language comes with the all-pervasive texting, with its use of time/character-saving abbreviations. Having already raised a generation of young people who have demonstrable trouble differentiating between to, too and two (I read a lot of ‘Indie’-authored ebooks, written by people who cannot afford editors or proofreaders), we are now seeing all three versions spelled as ‘2’, not to mention you being spelled ‘u’ and for ‘4’. I have no trouble with people using abbreviated spellings when they text, but when they attempt to bring those spellings into high school and even college classrooms I think that a pretty firm line must be drawn.

        While it’s true that, as the argument goes, ‘language is about communication and not perfection’, that’s hardly the whole of it. As language becomes impoverished, then that which can be communicated will become impoverished as well– and we won’t even know it, not having the linguistic tools to frame the loss in our own minds.

        Mr. Marzeck, when you write about these changes, saying “It happens and it will eventually be considered acceptable, whether we like it or not,” all I can do is wish you were mistaken. I strongly suspect that you’re not, unfortunately, n dat it all gonna go 2 hell n a basket.

        • Thank you for the well-written reply. From your username I would venture a guess that you are in my age (67) group of seniors 55 and older; therefore, your view of the evolution of our language is similar to mine.

          I have few disagreements with your analysis. Of course, usage of neologisms and words or phrases added to English from cross-cultural contact (“borrowing”) is welcome and frequently necessary. Frankly, however, it used to bother me to no end when I heard many of my peers using bad grammar and spelling. Obviously, our English teachers agreed. It still bothers me, but after so many years of observation I’ve resigned myself to the fact that nobody can change that for the better. Some people still make the effort to learn standard English, so that’s about the best we can hope for (okay, for which we can hope).

          My last sentence shows what influence modern conversation can have on even those of us with better education. I try not to end sentences with prepositions, but in some cases it sounds too stilted for most listeners and readers. It even does to me, but that’s because the entire “hope for” construction is considered one verb in some languages I’ve studied. It’s a matter of whether one wishes to classify “for” as a preposition or as a particle. Because you can’t place an object noun between “hope” and “for,” it should be considered a preposition in English.

          I just brought up another evolving usage in English: “you” rather than “one.” I violated the rule by using them inconsistently, but “you” or the first-person “I” or “we” are increasingly taking the place of “one” in English. It is similar to the disappearance of “thou,” “thee,” “thy” and “ye,” which are considered archaic now except for Biblical and classical literature use as thou hast mentioned. I can’t say that I really miss it, because it wasn’t used in conversation or in most written communication when I was growing up.

          The second personal singular has lost favor in Brazilian Portuguese as well. And then there’s the question of familiar and polite forms of address. The rules and forms vary widely among the Indo-European languages with which I’m familiar. The “one” construction and current usage also varies just in the Italic or modern Romance languages alone.

          I sometimes get strange looks from people when I use “who” and “whom” correctly, although some of those people say they wish they could get that right. Relative clauses can be tricky! Even some who confuse “their,” “there” and “they’re” or “to,” “too” and “two” tell me they wish they could remember and use them correctly. So for some people it’s not for lack of trying or caring. Others don’t try and don’t care. So, only sometimes is it ignorance and laziness. (There’s a good Germanic sentence structure – and I don’t want to pay any sin tax on it!)

          The forms of contractions such as “gonna” and “wanna” for verbs for which the end of the first verb and the “to” of the following infinitive is elided are so pervasive that they will be among the first to be accepted as normal and eventually become standard. The same will happen with “sorta” and “kinda” where the following “of” is shortened and appended to the noun.

          I must confess that my educated friends and I don’t always use those forms purposely just with each other. It depends upon our audience and its expectations. Ya don’t wanna upset your friends by showing them up. The latter, “to show up,” contains the word up as part of the verb, a particle rather than as a preposition. You don’t say “showing up them.” It is not exactly the same as “to hope for” where the “for” can be considered a preposition in English.

          I completely agree with you on the subject of texting language. When I was constrained to use 160 characters or less per text (I’m not on Twitter with its 140 cap) I soon learned to use “2,” “4,” “u,” “r” and “n” often. Certain friends and I have used other abbreviations as well, all depending on (upon) our needs or knowledge. As I mentioned in another post, it drives me crazy to see people use “ppl” for “people” or the above examples in situations where space is not an issue. Those should definitely not be used in high school and college classrooms.

          I just brought up another debate: “depend on” rather “depend upon.” I believe that the latter sounds more standard and correct, but I use them interchangeably in colloquial speech and writing. In scholarly writing I would use the preposition “upon.” This is another case where common usage will dictate what is considered standard in the future.

          You didn’t mention your thoughts on all the current acronyms used in texting and posts on Facebook, etc., not counting the “2” and “u” types of abbreviations for words. Some acronyms I find more palatable than others. Due to common usage among my peers I also use them in certain places, but the prospect of them becoming everyday language or being used in classrooms horrifies me. FYI and SNAFU are okay, as is OK, but not LOL, SMH, LMAO (or LMFAO), ROTFLMAO, IKR and many others are not.

          Obviously, a few of them such as LMFAO, GFY, WTF and POS are used to get by censors, where the object is to avoid using profanity, but most are not. Based upon (there’s the “upon” and “on” thing again) my observations and tendencies, I predict that LOL will become standard sooner rather than later. That was one of the first ones I saw, so it appears to be older and more likely to remain. I don’t like some of them such as SMH (shaking my head) and IKR (see below), so I don’t use them. I have no problem with most of the ones containing profanity, however.

          A group of my friends and I also use code words for some of those profane words, so we can swear in public without offending anyone. However, that is not at all a new idea, because it’s just a form of slang. The only slang which bothers me is that which I can’t understand – and some of it is meant for those of us outside of certain groups not to understand.

          One thing that really bothers me is that too many young people – and some cases, older ones, it appears – use the acronyms in lower case. This can be confusing sometimes, such as the mixed case “Ikr” for “I know, right.” It took me a long time and Googling (another neologism) to find out that it was “IKR” or should be “ikr” to avoid confusion using certain computer fonts. I kept thinking it was “LKR” and that didn’t make sense. I still have to use Google or ask friends what some acronyms mean when I can’t figure out from context. If LOL becomes standard, it must be capitalized or I won’t consider it acceptable.

          You are absolutely correct in that as our language becomes impoverished by overuse of slang and incorrect usage, our ability to communicate ideas will be impoverished and we won’t have the linguistic tools to understand the loss. Unfortunately, it is my study of linguistics in college, graduate school and continuing education which led to my predictions of the inevitable but undesirable.

    • No, the “F” in “SNAFU” means “fu**ed” and the two middle letters are not “dg.” As Francis Zanger said, “It was, and remains (as the acronym is still used, at least by sailors and Marines), a rather more graphic Anglo-Saxon adjective.” In other words, the “F” stands for the verb past tense or adjective form of the well-known “F word.” I can confirm that, because I learned it from my dad and one of my uncles, both of whom were in the U.S. Navy in World War II. I also know other men who’ve been in the Navy or Marines since then who will agree with that. Francis is probably correct about who said the “F” stood for “fouled.” Older dictionaries, most of which excluded all but the mildest profanity, showed the word as “fouled (euphemism)” but newer ones print the exact word.

        • Sorry, I was suspicious but should’ve realized for sure that you were being sarcastic. And I was trying to be careful lest I violate some posting rule. Francis Zanger may have been doing the same. I would expect a linguistically-themed website to allow all language, at least as examples, but I wasn’t sure. Some websites such as Facebook allow such language and some such as MLB do not.

          Yes, they did fudge the definition. That’s why Francis’ explanation was necessary and illuminating, if you’ll pardon the pun on your username – and I hope that’s sarcastic as well. The only part of my reply that was helpful was the comment about the dictionaries.

          • Would you hope his use of ‘the Illuminati’ to be sarcastic or ironic? Inquiries minds want to know…

            I have, for reasons of security, stopped using the name my parents bequeathed me on Disqus. My new user name is a bit glibbish, I admit, but I was short on imagination when I came up with it.

          • Do I hope the use “the Illuminati” is sarcastic or ironic? I was trying to be humorous about the conspiracy theories regarding the Illuminati, so sarcastic would be an appropriate adjective if he was making fun of the group. It would be ironic if he were a member, because I wouldn’t expect anyone of such a supposedly secret and evil group to admit to it by using such a username, especially on a website such as this. So I would prefer sarcastic… just in case any of the rumors might be true. I mean that sarcastically, of course.

            If using your real name on Disqus is a security risk and has been replaced on all of your comments by your new one, should I edit my previous comments which mentioned your name to match? Ironic or not? I don’t mean this sarcastically, because I know of people who really did have to change their online names for security reasons.

            Your new username (accepted alternate for user name, which I only state because we’re on this website) is not all that unusual or unimaginative. And as far as being glibbish, you should see another comment I had on another topic regarding my father’s use of the word. Whether he actually coined a new word or variation there many years ago (originally spelled glöbysch, but pronounced glibbish) or it was already a word based upon glib or gibberish is unknown to me. I couldn’t find an etymology. But since the final family-accepted definition was “somewhat blah or not good,” that part of your comment made me chuckle.

          • Kip Marzeck– I don’t have the time right now to respond in full, but do have to admit that I was purposefully using your father’s word and your family’s definition of it… just to provoke that chuckle.

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