Might-Could: A lesson in Southern negotiating tactics

The redneck nuclear option

The redneck nuclear option

If you’ve spent any amount of time in the South, chances are you’ve heard the phrase “might-could.” It’s a response uttered by Southerners when asked if they want to do something.  Here’s a practical application of the phrase used in an exchange between two good ol’ boys:

“Hey, Tater, you wanna go to the game on Sad’day?”

“I might-could.”

If you’re a Northerner, you undoubtedly write this off as a meaningless and unnecessary extension of the word might. You may even mistake it as an example of dimwitted rednecks butchering the English language.  You couldn’t be more wrong.

Might-could is one of the most succinct and brilliant negotiating tactics ever devised by human beings.  Using the example above, it’s a way for Tater to signal to his friend Bubba (because everyone thinks every third male in the South is named Bubba) that while he’s not particularly motivated to go to the game, he’s willing to go if his friend sweetens the deal.  Here’s the conversation played out a little further:

“Hey, Tater, you wanna go to the game on Sad’day?”

“I might-could.”

“I’ll drive.”

Okay, so now Tater knows he doesn’t have to drive. He’s intrigued enough to follow up with a question.

“What time’s the game?”


Tater tilts his head slightly to the right and smirks, indicating that 3:30 is not the ideal time for him.  Bubba ramps up the pressure.

“Game Day crew’ll be there.”

“So will a shitload of people.”

Now Bubba’s made a huge mistake. He’s introduced a negative that he thought would be a positive. He thought his friend’s affinity for ESPN’s College Game Day was the perfect enticement. Instead, he’s damaged his case. He’s forced to go nuclear.

“Gotta a case of Bud.”

“I ain’t gotta chip in for gas, do I?”

Bubba grins and spits tobacco infused saliva into his Sonic cup because he knows he just successfully sealed the deal.

Now, the question those of you who aren’t familiar with Southernisms may have is what’s the difference between might-could and might.  Frankly, might is an emphatic no.  If anyone with a Southern accent ever says to you in response to a question, “I might,” take it for the no that it is and move on. The next logical question is what happens when a Southerner says no. Here’s the deal, Southerners rarely say no. We think it’s way too rude. That’s why we came up with the might-could and might response system. If a Southerner is moved to display such a definitive rebuff as a no represents, some major shit is about to go down, and you might-should arm yourself.  BTW – might-should is the Southern way of saying “Hell yeah you should.”

In summary:

Might-could means “I’m open to the idea.”

Might means “Hell, no.”

No means “Ima beat you stupid for asking such a dumb question.”

Let the negotiations begin.

One thought on “Might-Could: A lesson in Southern negotiating tactics

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