When I was younger my dad asked me, what is the longest word in the English language, I was so excited and said the answer was smiles as there is a mile between first s and last s. He was not convinced and told me "If" was the longest word. My seven-year-old mind thought that must have been a joke as how could a 2-letter word be longest word and be longer than my mile word.
As I grew older I kept thinking about what he had said and saw how powerful the word is as it had so many possibilities. If I had done this, If this happens, if this had not happened.
I notice two phrases using if, 'What if' and 'If only' are creeping into my own vocabulary as well as into other's everyday language.
I use 'What if' when I am imagining what might happen or what could have happened. I use 'If only' when I am annoyed I could have done something better or tried harder.
I asked some friends about how they use what if and if only.
One friend told me "I can waste an awful lot of life catastrophizing when I say 'What if', so I avoid using it."
A customer told me "What if - could mean anything. I think I naturally tend to say 'What if' to everything and used to hate it as I believed it made me susceptible to anxiety and depression.
A neighbour explained that "What if is more like being able to imagine all sorts of different scenarios, and feeling which one I want best. It helps to visualise my goals and options in my life and then try to strive towards them.
Like - what if things turn out ok? What would I want to do?
What if my fears are true? What would I do? But what if they aren't?"
A neighbour said "It is the imagining I think that can lead to the best experiences (...as well as the most paralysing fears.)"
Some people felt that 'If only' is wishing the past or present were different, and doesn't encourage action as much. It mostly leaves you focused on what you lack, rather than what you have.
My cousin explained to me that 'What if' maybe a natural defence mechanism to stop us repeating our mistakes.
What do the expressions 'What if' and 'If only' mean to you?
Do you use them often, or not much?
Do you use one expression more than the other?
A Moodscope member