Did you know that the word almost is one of the most overused words in this country? That includes its synonyms: close, nearly, practically, virtually, well-nigh, mostly, and a number of others. It’s one of my pet peeves.
“Almost” means whatever you’re talking about didn’t happen. It’s about what might have been, a wish, a fantasy. It isn’t reality. Wishful thinking.
Think about it:
The cars almost collided – they didn’t; no accident; no damage; maybe a bit of extra adrenaline.
The goalie almost made the save – the other team scored; he didn’t make the save; the puck went in; this is the goaltender equivalent of Player X almost scored – he didn’t; no change in score.
You were almost on time – you were late. Period.
You almost ate the whole thing – there were leftovers.
You almost paid all your bills – you’re still in debt.
He almost hit a home run – oops, not out of the park.
My headache is almost gone – I still have a headache and if you annoy me, it may get as bad as it was.
What’s wrong with reporting things the way they happened instead of reporting what didn’t happen? It’s hype, plain and simple. Even the news is given to us in the manner. Planes that almost collide. People who were almost hurt. You can tell when it’s been a really slow news day; that’s when they not only put on the “almost” stories but they tease you with them for hours in their promos. “What happened when two planes were missed by traffic controllers? Tune in at 6 for all the details.” The details: 2 planes were in the sky, the passed however far apart, there was no collision but it was dangerous, because it almost happened.
What about “We almost had sex.” That means you didn’t – no fun, no regrets.
I almost went on vacation to Iceland. That tells you I didn’t. I’m still sitting here in New England wishing I was on vacation (frankly, anywhere). I almost agreed to have a visitor for the summer. That means no company. My lack of the hospitality gene won out. I almost fell asleep. Here I am, awake and aware.
I wonder sometimes why people choose to use “almost” so much. Is there such a need to exaggerate because it helps people feel more important? I almost got that job. I almost make $100,000. I almost walked a mile.
That reminds me. What qualifies as almost for one person isn’t necessarily the same as it is for the next person. “He was almost safe at third base.” Is that a stride, an foot, an inch? That mile you almost walked – was that .51 mile, .75 mile or .99 mile? That almost on time? 2 minutes late, 10 minutes late, half a hour late or, like my old friend, 2 hours late?
Wouldn’t be clearer and more useful to say “He was out by 2 feet” or “I walked two thirds of a mile” or “I walk 5 minutes late”?
I’m almost done – no, wait – I can’t say that. I’m either done or I’m not.