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Wed 16 October 2019
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(n.) a state of indecision, wavering between two opinions or options

If last week’s EU election results taught us anything, it’s that the UK is still as divided as ever.

On the one hand, Remainers claimed the biggest victory of the night: add up the votes for all those parties overtly calling for the 2016 referendum to be rerun or revoked, and together they took home just over 40% of the vote, compared to the Hard Brexiteers’ 34%. But Leavers were quick to prick holes in that arithmetic. The Tories’ (albeit historically low) share of the vote should also surely be classed as a vote to Leave, as too should the lion’s share of the Labour vote, after Jeremy Corbyn claimed (then unclaimed, then deferred, then claimed again) that his party was indeed committed to delivering Brexit.

The outright winners, moreover, were Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. Despite being just 45 days old, the party claimed a 31% share of the vote, translating into an impressive 29 seats out of an available 73. (Side note: it’s odd that they’ve stopped calling the EU Parliament unelected now, isn’t it?) But Remainers were just as quick to claim victories here, too.

For one, this was not the great Brexiteer rebellion that Mr Farage had been threatening; indeed his Brexit Party only managed to marginally improve on the number of seats his former outfit UKIP won at the last round of EU elections five years ago. And what’s more, taken purely as a numbers game, the Brexit Party’s 5.2 million votes falls far short of the 17 million that turned out in support of Brexit back in 2016 (and even managed to fall short of the 6 million who petitioned to revoke Article 50 altogether back in March).

So where does all this leave us? Well, to listen to the commentators’ opinions is to hear a story of a nation still deeply divided—both generationally and geographically, as well as politically. And it looks like those divisions are only going to become more entrenched as the EU’s October 31st deadline creeps ever nearer.

We are, in a word, in the mebby-scales. A term first recorded in the late 1700s (but likely in local use somewhat earlier than that), mebby-scales is a long-forgotten expression of quavering uncertainty, of split decisions, and of divided judgments. As one nineteenth century guide to Archaic and Provincial Words put it, to be in the mebby-scales is to waver between two opinions.

On the subject of indecisiveness, etymologically it’s presumed that the “mebby” here is just a dialectal corruption of maybe; indeed mebby, or mebbe, has been recorded as a local variant of maybe since the early 1800s, so the dates seem to match just as effectively as the connotations here.

And let’s be honest. If you were to ask anyone whether they genuinely believed that the UK would indeed leave the EU later this year, probably the most best answer they could give at this stage would be—well, mebby.

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