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Prahps, or praps not . . . That is the question!

Perhaps. Such a simple word to express a complex equivocal answer. In our hurried modern context it has become Prahps and even Praps. Here is the story of how this has come about, and some guide as to where you should or should not partake . . .

“Perhaps” you say

Perhaps means possibly, but not certainly: Perhaps it will rain later today. Or it can be used to introduce subtle vagueness. Her inclusion of chocolate is perhaps a brilliant addition to this recipe.

There are other words that serve this purpose . . . but not as well. We might say “feasibly,” but that is very squishy and implies some engineering calculation. Or “potentially,” but that is longer and more equivocating, tuned to business cases exploring eventualities, and lacking the subtlety of perhaps. We could simply say “maybe,” but that would risk sounding like a 10 year old that can’t make up her mind.

Hamlet Tries To Follow His Father's Ghost, 1835, Eugène Delacroix.  An inspiration for our exploration of the word prahps.
Hamlet Tries To Follow His Father’s Ghost, 1835, Eugène Delacroix

Shakespeare had Hamlet lament “Perchance to Dream” in the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy. A beautiful word choice. But in the last 400 years perchance has fallen at least a bit out of favor and we would not likely call upon it today.

Prahps it’s time to shorten

So we are left with “perhaps” as a strong word choice in countless situations . . . and we propose formalizing the way it has been used in short form. That’s right, we want to shorten it! As in cut off letters and even an entire syllable. Prahps. Or if you must one of the other shortened forms like Praps, Prhaps, or even P’rhaps. Read on and you can decide which form works best.

Why Prahps?

Simply why not! Purists and traditionalists often push back on lingual evolution. But if our language is to continue to evolve, if we are to continue to evolve, worlds like prahps will continue to become part of our lexicon. It saves a syllable, sounds pleasing to the ear, and conveys the point without confusion.

The Apollo 1 crew in training, we wonder if they pondered the question of prahps (or praps) going into space
The Apollo One crew training –
prahps we should go to space, or
prahps we should just enjoy this sunny day

Did we invent it?

Prahps we did. The single syllable spoken seems to be in at least modest circulation. Although the use is typically written as Praps, which has additional meanings which we will explore below. In our editorial group and our families we have been using the phrase as shorthand for Perhaps for a few years, which is what prompted this post. We aren’t certain how widespread this is, so it’s hard to stake the claim to the spoken.

However, we do think we have coined this written form and spelling! Some searching and sleuthing turned up no other uses. In fact all of the search engines tried to “correct” our spelling. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been used this way before, but to our best evidence we are first! It’s fun to invent a new word, and we think we may have done so here! And you, dear reader, are along for the ride.

Why this spelling?

There are a few obvious (or less obvious) ways to contract or shorten perhaps: that would be p’rhaps, prhaps, or prahps . While we think we are first with any of these three, we prefer the last, and here is why . . .

What about the contraction?

Most contractions follow the form of eliminating a letter or syllable and replacing it with an apostrophe. But in this case if we eliminate the e and insert an apostrophe we would get P’rhaps. This would potentially backfire, and praphs (did you see how we did that) lengthen the pronunciation to the three syllabic Pa-er-haps. At best we would still emphasize the R as Prr-haps, no real benefit over the original two syllables.

And of course the contraction ‘re means are, so a new use of ‘r might lead to confusion.

So why ah over ha?

This is one of those cases where grammar rules and spelling rules run short. Or prahps they don’t really encourage either of these spelling options, so we are out on our own.

There are relatively few words in English that include an ah spelling. That works against us.

And there are many words that use an ha form like mishaps, describing things gone wrong, or even phaps, which is an out of use term for wild pigeons.

A wild pigeon, also know as a phap.  The ha spelling is common but not descriptive, and helps us understand the ah spelling for prahps.
A phap, also known as a wild pigeon
Phap, Phrap, and fraps

The CDC runs a Public Health Associate Program (PHAP), not to be confused with the Public Health Prevention Service (PHPS) it partially replaced. That’s a lot of acronyms.

There are also near match words like phrap. Very different from a frappuccino (also sometimes referred to as frap or in plural fraps), phrap is coding language used in DNA work. Along with its related phred, there is some science going on there that we prahps should stay detangled from.

So why choose the more awkward ah form? Because it better telegraphs the pronunciation, is more elegant, and better conveys the meaning and intent of the word:

Pronunciation

Think Brahms. Johannes Brahms was one of the great Romantic music composers. Go ahead and say “Brahms” out loud. That smile and soothing feeling that 19 out of 23 people we surveyed on this reported are what we are going for here, and we are betting you now understand what we mean. The ah spelling gives a smooth ahh sound, and telegraphs perfectly how to pronounce the word.

Johannes Brahms, a Romantic era composer, born 1833, died 1897.  This photo dates from 1889.
Johannes Brahms, 1833-1897
Elegance

With absolutely no proof we are going to assert that Prahps is more elegant than Prhaps. Most of our admittedly small survey sample of 23 thought so also, but every once in a while we like a bald assertion, and this is it.

While it has more of a flair to it, another critical thing to note is that when you type it, your computer won’t try to autocorrect your single syllable to the original Perhaps. Try it. Really . . . go ahead and try it!

Meaning and Intent

The most important question to ask is will people understand what you mean when you say it. In this case the ah is the most productive for communicating intent. Our undersized survey confirmed this for us, telling us that people equally understood the two choices, but preferred the ah form. Both forms won out over the street slang form of Praps, and the contraction P’rhaps, as well as the vowelless Prhps which fared the worst.

What about Praps?

The phrase prap or praps seems to be in at least some use. So why not just adopt praps? For one its a sloppy shortening that doesn’t immediately telegraph its intent or meaning. From context a reader can figure out what the writer means, but that’s never an elegant solution.

Praps in slang usage

For another, there seem to be several meanings for this slang term. The top definition from the Urban Dictionary is drunk or high. They ad that a prapser is someone who frequency gets drunk or high.

One use of prap that we rather like: a description of the combination of Pop and Rap music. This is actually quite a witty way to describe this not so uncommon but maybe misguided combination.

Apparently “gangster” slang includes use as a description of the sound of gunfire, as in “prap! prap!

And somewhere buried in these forms, praps can mean maybe or perhaps.

PRAP the acronym already means quite a few different things

The P.R.A.P. acronym is in reasonably wide use.

There is the Psychosocial Risk Assessment in Pediatrics (PRAP) which is a screening tool developed by a team at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

The retirement program offered by United Airlines is called the Pilot Retirement Account Plan (PRAP).

There are two related but different medical uses: Prolactin Receptor Associated Protein (PRAP), and Proline-rich Acidic Protein (PRAP). Some PRAPs may inhibit cancer growth, so hopefully we will hear more about them if they develop into viable drugs on that front.

The Pylos Regional Archaeological Project (PRAP) is “a multi-disciplinary, diachronic archaeological expedition” to investigate the history and settlement “centered on the Bronze Age administrative center known as the Palace of Nestor” in Greece. If exploring this further means a trip to Greece, count us in!

Ruins of the Palace of Nestor at Pylos, Greece.  It is part of PRAP the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project. This helps settle on prahps and rule out praps which increases the risk of ambiguity.
Archeological site at Palace of Nestor, Pylos, Greece

So Prahps it is!

Sometimes it really is OK to let our language breathe, and adopt a new phrase. It’s how language evolves, and it can be a good thing. We’ve done it, and you can too!

So first, we encourage you to drop a “prahps” into your everyday conversation, and see how it feels!

Next, please let us know what you think about our daring linguistic adventure! We had some good comments about our last language post about “not skepping anyone’s nav” which delved into the gender differences in how we develop and talk about technology, and also coined what we think is another turn of phrase “don’t skep my nav” that we think people should adopt.

And finally, if you hear prahps, praps, or even another way to say perhaps, please let us know that as well.

Cheers!