Heckler

<i>Illustration: Eddie Dunlop</i>

Illustration: Eddie Dunlop

I WANT to change the English language - well, the use of it - but I'm going to need your help and your consensus to do it. Are you prepared to try? Yes or no?

You see, I've never accepted the paradigm that there is always just a 'yes' or 'no' answer to a question. Many, many times an answer demands qualification, but 'yes' and 'no' are finite, and don't infer that a qualification might be vitally important.

For example: Question: Would you like a piece of cake? Answer: Well, yes, if it's a chocolate cake with thick icing on it, or a fruit cake, but no, not if it's a sponge with cream on top. (Disclaimer: this is solely my preference; I mean no offence to sponge-cake lovers).

I believe strongly that we need an in-between word, something that fills the void between 'yes' and 'no', with an air of necessary expectation and explanation.

On first consideration, I figured that the word needed to be short (like 'yes' and 'no', and not longer than three letters). 'Po' seemed good; it conveyed the possibility of 'possible', but maybe that was a bit too positive, too closely aligned to 'yes', but sounding like 'no'?

What about 'nes' or 'yo'? Well, 'yo' is already used, with an entirely differing meaning, and both sound too much like the problem words, so they could easily be confused by some listeners.

Recently, I had an inspiration: what about 'if'? It already exists; it automatically conveys the need for further clarification; it doesn't sound like 'yes' or 'no', so it cannot be easily confused.

It fits within the parameter of two to three letters. In short, it's a nice little word that deserves an elevation of its status. Already, I can imagine all kinds of scenarios.

Q: Do you want to go out? A: If. Q: What do you mean by that? A: It means not if you're wearing that shirt with those crappy shoes, and only if it's somewhere I'll like where your mates aren't hanging out.

Or, Q: Can you get me something at the shops? A: If. Q: If what? A: If it's something I can get from the supermarket around the corner; not triple-smoke-cured yak's cheese with alfalfa waftings from the Western slopes of the Himalayas, hand-tied in self-composting palm leaves - as specified in Heston's latest recipe for infusion-of-lamb whatsits. Q: You are so rude! Don't you appreciate my dinners or don't you love me any more? A: If. Perhaps, Q: Did you buy shares in the mining company after receiving confidential information? A: If.

So what about it? It's only one little word. Want to help me change the world? Yes or no?

Simon Palmer