Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Often when a piece of rhetoric is being added for emphasis, we put "I might add" before or after or sometimes inside of it.

Martin Brice - my old and good friend who promised me we would not get in trouble and who, I might add, did not.

All of the definitions of "might" that I can find include an element of "possibility." Why, when Cosmo is definitely, not possibly, adding "[Martin Brice did not get in trouble]," does he still use the phrase "I might add?"

share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Might is a modal auxiliary verb. So is would. Modal and mood all refer to the same logical phenomena, so this is in the same semantic area as the subjunctive, conditional, or optative moods. English doesn't have moods, but it has lots of modal constructions to do the same job.

In general, modals are more polite than non-modals, just as the subjunctive mood is more polite in languages like Spanish that have a subjunctive mood. That's why we say

  • Would you like ...?

instead of

  • Do you want ...?

to make a question sound more polite.

The pragmatic tag I might add is a politeness marker. That's all.

share|improve this answer
2  
Rhetorically speaking, it could also be seen as a slightly "toned down" version of apophasis - epitomised by "not to mention", which is always followed by the very thing you just claimed you're not going to bring up. In OP's example the implication is you might not add whatever follows - but again, you definitely are going to. –  FumbleFingers Jan 25 '13 at 19:12
    
Sure. The Greek rhetoricians always had a word for it; so did the Sanskrit grammarians -- Tatpurusha vs Dvandva compounds. I wish I remembered what they meant. –  John Lawler Jan 28 '13 at 19:43

I would disagree that the expression is usually used to convey emphasis about a new piece of information. Rather, I would say the expression was originally used to supplement a secondary and slightly digressive piece of information to a primary statement. I.e. "Last night X and I went out to dinner at that new restaurant [primary information], where, I might add, the service was terrible [supplementary information]."

If I'm not mistaken, the current version of the expression is derived from the longer phrase "if I might [be permitted to] add...", which is the kind of pseudo-apologetic lead-in you see often if the speaker is speaking out of turn, or voicing an unpopular opinion. The modern version of that might be "In my humble opinion". I think of "I might add" in the middle of a sentence to indicate that the speaker is aware that they are digressing from the main path a little, and pre-emptively acknowledging it / apologizing for the presumption.

Of courses, these days it's used sarcastically more often than not, so that the secondary aside has the same effect as a dramatic stage whisper, hence the modern understanding of it being emphatic rather than parenthetical.

share|improve this answer
2  
I think the querent is correct when they say it is used for emphasis, and you also are when you point out that it is for a parenthetical aside: It's an example of meiosis, where we present something with underemphasis so as to actually achieve an emphasis. –  Jon Hanna Jan 25 '13 at 17:57
    
@JonHanna Querent! I haven't seen that in years, but I'm going to adopt it. Perhaps even quærent. –  StoneyB Jan 25 '13 at 19:54
    
@StoneyB I use it all the time because it's perfectly apt, while OP doesn't seem quite clear in this format (in the context of this comment is the OP Phire or ArgentoSapiens?), and it puts the focus on the question-answer purpose. It's used so often in terms of divination as to approach being jargon in that field, but retains it's general meaning. Only after you mentioned it there have I checked and found that some dictionaries mark it as obs though I can't think of any good more-modern replacement, can you? –  Jon Hanna Jan 25 '13 at 20:06
    
@JonHanna I've been using Questioner. I believe that's also by convention the referent of OP - which I guess makes Phire a Subsequent Poster, or SP. But Quærent/Respondent adds a touch of Classical Dignity and Refinement. –  StoneyB Jan 25 '13 at 20:15
    
@StoneyB, hm, in these contexts I've seen OC used to address my role (original commenter) to distinguish it from OP, though it's certainly not as elegant as Querent/Respondent. –  Phire Jan 25 '13 at 20:18

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.