Has it ever struck you that we English users are constantly standing meaning on its head? Let’s look at a number of familiar English words and phrases that turn out to mean the opposite or something very different from what we think they mean:
I could care less. I couldn’t care less is the clearer, more accurate version. Why do so many people delete the negative from this statement? Because they are afraid that the n’t . . . less combination will make a double negative, which is a no-no.
I really miss not seeing you. Whenever people say this to me, I feel like responding “All right, I’ll leave!” Here speakers throw in a gratuitous negative, not, even though I really miss seeing you is what they want to say.
The movie kept me literally glued to my seat. The chances of our buttocks being literally epoxied to a seat are about as small as the chances of our literally rolling in the aisles while watching a funny movie or literally drowning in tears while watching a sad one. We actually mean The movie kept me figuratively glued to my seat but who needs figuratively, anyway?
A non-stop flight . Never get on one of these. You’ll never get down.
A near miss. A near miss is in reality a collision. A close call is actually near hit.
My idea fell between the cracks. If something fell between the cracks, didn’t it land smack on the planks or the concrete? Shouldn’t that be my idea fell into the cracks or between the boards?
I’ll follow you to the ends of the earth. Let the word go out to the four corners of the earth that ever since Columbus we have known that the earth doesn’t have any ends.
Crazy English: the Ultimate Joy Ride Through Our Language, Richard Lederer (Pocket Books, 1989)