The Grammarphobia Blog

Is “mayhap” a mishap?

Q: A colleague of mine often uses the word “mayhap” when we discuss ideas at a meeting, as in “Mayhap we could first consider point three.” What is the origin of this? Is it a valid word?

A: The word “mayhap” (sometimes “mayhaps”) is an old adverb meaning “perhaps” or “possibly.”

It was first recorded in writing in the 16th century, according to published references in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The dictionary’s first citation is from John Heywood’s early Tudor drama The Play of the Wether (1533): “May happe I wyll thynke on you when you be gone.”

The OED describes “mayhap” as a shortened form of the phrase “it may hap”; that old phrase incorporates the archaic verb “hap,” which once meant “to come about by ‘hap’ or chance.”  

Another old adverb, “mayhappen” (circa 1577), sometimes abbreviated to “mappen,” is a shortened form of “it may happen.”

The OED says that both “mayhap” and “mayhappen” are still alive in some dialects in Britain but are otherwise archaic.

However, the lexicographers at the OED may have underestimated the use of the term today.

Your colleague has lots of company, according to the hundreds of thousands of hits we had on  Google searches for “mayhap,” “mayhaps,” and “mayhappen.”

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