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I Hate “Probably”

November 14, 2013

There are certain words that I’m beginning to despise.  And it’s not that they are the typical bad words…the ones that parents try their hardest to keep their kids from being exposed to.  The words I’m talking about are normal…everyday…harmless words.  But they’re being hijacked.  They’re being corrupted.  And I just don’t like it.

One of these is the word “probably.”  I’m starting to hate the word “probably.”  And listen, I hesitate to say that I hate something because I know what that means.  I fully understand the weight of what it means to hate something…to detest…to despise it…or to loathe it.  One dictionary definition of hate is “to feel intense or passionate dislike for something.”  So it’s not a matter of indifference.  It’s not ambiguous negative emotion…it’s a positively negative emotion.

And here’s the reason this word “probably” has become such a problem.  It’s become a problem because it no longer seems to mean what it used to mean.  Probably, in the past, meant “almost certainly.”  Probably meant that at this moment, as long as nothing unforeseen happens…no “acts of God”…whatever it is that I am committing to…will happen.  Again, “probably” doesn’t mean “maybe.”  Maybe means that it’s possible.  It means that there’s a chance.  It could happen.  Parents have long used “maybe” as a catch-all response to children’s requests.  “Can I stay up late tonight…have ice cream…get a new iPod?”  It can be any request…and the parent’s response of “maybe” typically means that it’s unlikely.  And our kids learn that pretty quickly.  My son has already established in his mind that “maybe means no.”

At some point, we’ve allowed (some might say forced) the word “probably” to actually mean “maybe.”  And I hate that.  We’re not using the word correctly.  And much like when we use anything incorrectly…it doesn’t work.  It’s like trying to use a hammer to paint the ceiling of your bedroom.  Yes, it’s a tool…it is used to accomplish work…but it’s not used to accomplish the type of work we’re trying to accomplish with it.  So…you can soak that hammer in paint…for days…and it’s not going to matter how much you say it’s a paintbrush…or try to employ it as a paintbrush…it’s not a paintbrush.

This is what we’re doing with “probably.”  Our fear of commitment…to anything…has made “probably” the normative answer because it requires so little…especially if by “probably” we actually mean “maybe.”  So the child asks the dad if he is coming to the game and the father replies “probably.”  The coach asks the player if he’s going to show up early to put in extra work and athlete responds with “probably.”  The pastor asks the member of the church if they will see them Sunday morning and the person replies “probably.”  And in each case…most of the time…the answer should be no more than “maybe” and more than likely, they should have simply and truthfully said, “No.”

Because here is the truth…in our culture…”probably,” just as often as not…means “probably not.”  And this is destructive.  The long-term ramifications of a culture where people refuse to commit to one another leads us to a lack of trust, a lack of hope, and a skeptical outlook on nearly everything.  Whatever happened to the idea of letting your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no?  That’s what we read in James 5:12.  People ought to be able to trust that what you say is in fact the truth.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:37, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or “No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

It’s always sad to me when one of my kid’s teammates tells me that their parent is “probably coming tonight.”  “My dad said he’s probably going to get off of work in time to get here.”  We’re literally training our children not to trust, and we’re doing it at a very early age.  And it’s destroying our culture.

This has been more of a rant than anything else…and part of me wants to apologize for that.  People who know me are “probably” going to be wondering if I’m talking specifically about them…and honestly… I’m not.  This is a personal conviction.  I have done this.  I have set the example and paved the path of comfort for myself by resisting the absolute need to make commitments and live with them.  And listen to me…I know…there is always the thought that we might miss out on something “better.”  That may happen.  That is a possibility (a genuine “maybe”).  But when we say we’re “probably” going to do something…and then we don’t do it…there’s a guarantee that it’s going to hurt someone else.  And I don’t want to be that guy.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Debbie permalink
    November 14, 2013 4:22 pm

    Great sermon! I am totally with you.

    Sent from my iPhone


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