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There is a phrase that has plagued me all of my life. In fact, I've heard it quite alot lately. It goes like this: "Hurrican Rita all but destroyed this tiny parish." I understand through context what the phrase means. It means that the tiny parish was totally destroyed. However, it seems to me that a logical examination of the words would imply the exact opposite. When I see the term "all but" I think this way: all = did everything; but = except. So when someone says "The Green Bay Packers all but destroyed their opponent's offence," I think to myself "Okay, the Packers could have planted a garden, danced a jig, wrote letters to their mothers, or painted their toenails, but they didn't destroy their opponent's offence, becasue, as the sentence says, 'they did everything except destroy their opponent's offence'"

What I want to know is this: Is it a grammatical misappropriation (Like the notorious use of 'I could care less' when what the speaker really means is 'I couldn't care less') or is it correct and I'm missing something? Help!

Thanks in advance.

--Lionheart
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Hi,


is it correct and I'm missing something? Yes, I'm afraid you're missing something.

"Hurrican Rita all but destroyed this tiny parish." I understand through context what the phrase means. It means that the tiny parish was totally destroyed. No. It means that it was almost completely destroyed.

The idea is that The hurricane destroyed it means totally. The hurricane all but destroyed it means it did everything except totally destroy it, eg it 99% destroyed it.

She died means bye-bye.

She all but died means she came close to death.

Best wishes, Clive

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Thank you clive. You've cleared up a long-time problem for me. Actually it was my uncle (alarmingly he was a teacher!) who told me that 'all but' meant 'completely' rather than 'almost completely'. That's what I get for asking a music teacher about English!

If I may, I'd like to go a bit further into this subject. My confusion over the logic behind the words is still there. Regardless of the intention of the phrase, 'all but' still seems to say 'everything except' rather than 'almost'. Am I missing something again?

--Lionheart
Hi again,

That's what I get for asking a music teacher about English! Well, I'm a teacher of dance.

If I may, I'd like to go a bit further into this subject. My confusion over the logic behind the words is still there. Regardless of the intention of the phrase, 'all but' still seems to say 'everything except' rather than 'almost'. Am I missing something again?

I know what you mean, but 'all but' really modifies the degree of the main verb, in the same way as 'almost' or 'completely' do.

The fire all but/almost/completely destroyed the house.

Consider 'She smiled at him. She sighed at him. She touched his arm. She did everything but tell him that she loved him.' Perhaps that's a little more in the direction you are thinking about?

Clive
Thanks again, Clive. I think it's beginning to dawn on me now. I tend to be inspect things a bit too closely. My confusion was that I didn't see 'all but' meaning 'almost' or 'nearly'. Several people have used the old phrase "can't see the forrest for the trees," in reference to me and I don't have anything to disprove them! I'm the kind of person that if someone says "2 + 2 = 4" I"ll say, "Yes, but why do they call it 'four'?" Oh well.

I'll ruminate on this some more. Thanks. Cha cha cha!

--Lionheart
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it appears from your explanation that the "all but" clause means the same as "almost". As in: She all but died == She almost died. Is that so?

The phrase 'all but . . . ' conveys a lot more 'attitude' than just 'almost'.


Do you realize you are contributing to a discussion that took place in 2005? Emotion: wink

Clive