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Can anyone explain to me the usage of the words "might as well do something" for these two expressions. The definition on the web is very vague, it says

a phrase indicating that it is probably better to do something than not to do it.

1: If you are going all the way to [some place], you might as well pick [something] up.

2: If someone is still not happy, then they might as well just hang themselves.

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What do you mean “the” definition on the Web? Surely there are a million of them. –  tchrist Dec 29 '12 at 22:44
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The idiom is NP might as well VP, which means either (if NP is a person) that NP should VP, or at least it won't hurt anything if NP VPs; or (if NP is not a person) that NP's VPing seems likely and/or desirable. –  John Lawler Dec 29 '12 at 22:57
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3 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

This may be considered General Reference; but it's not easy to find in online dictionaries, so I might as well give it a stab.

macmillandictionary.com, in the ‘Phrases’ under might gives this:

might (just) as well INFORMAL
1. used to suggest doing something because you cannot think of anything better to do

We might as well sit down while we're waiting.
You might as well enjoy your money while you've got it.

It indicates an unenthusiastic acquiescence in someone else's proposition, or a less-than-wholehearted proposition of one's own. When I was young, the conversation might run like this:

A. Ya wanna go grab a beer?
B. (shrugging). Might as well. Can't dance, and it's too wet to plow.

The fullest form of the phrase (little heard now) indicates why it has this meaning: might just as well (do X) as not. That is, we're equally well-off doing X as not doing X.

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We need to segregate "might" from "as well", first.

Might = probably, possibly.

as well = equivalently appropriate or fitting.

Therefore, "might as well" would mean

possibly just as appropriate or fitting.

For example,

Do you think that Jesus will be returning next year?

He could do just as well by not returning next year, since it has been 2000 years' procrastination.

He might, do just as well, by not returning next year.

He might as well not return at all.

He might be just as comfortable not returning at all, compared to his comfort level of having to fulfill a prophecy - having to deal with a planet damaged by god-fearing people vs the guilt of not fulfilling a prophecy.

In fact, there might be no difference whether he returns or not. The planet would not benefit either way.

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This phrase can be used as an alternative to yes, and a more colourful answer to a question, i.e Would you care for a cup of tea? " Oh, I might as well" meaning what harm could it do! Are you going to take the car or walk? "I might as well take the car". (as walking would involve exerting energy!) It is normally used where there is an alternative, and you declare the winning option by the term I might as well do blah blah etc. Hope this helps. I just thought I might as well try answering it!!

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