Another "nearly" from the wrong side

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Aug 29 18:09:42 UTC 2013

On Aug 29, 2013, at 1:54 PM, Dan Goncharoff wrote:

> Does "nearly" have a wrong side? Why can't near-ness be a slightly higher
> amount? Now if the article had used "almost", I would share your concern.
> DanG

For a lot of speakers, "nearly X" shares this scalar property with "almost X" and "not quite X", all of them suggesting a scalar position below or before X(ing), whether X is a number, an amount, or a time point/interval.  But it can be overridden in context with varying degrees of success.  So while "almost/nearly started" usually means not yet begun, we can get examples like "almost a child" or "almost a virgin" in "wrong-side" contexts like

Anyway, she was only 16. Technically she might be an adult but really she was only a child. You couldn’t make people who were almost children be responsible for dead bodies, could you?
 —Kate Atkinson, _When Will There Be Good News?_

or the David Cassidy movie "Almost a Virgin".    For me "nearly" works in such cases too, but YMMV.  I do notice a lot of sites for "nearly newlyweds", and in particular for the "Nearly Newlywed Wedding Dress Boutique" that sells "nearly new" dresses, which would be another example (=/= not yet new).  To be sure, though, someone who is "nearly/almost 21" is nearly/almost short of 21, rather than long of it.


> On Thu, Aug 29, 2013 at 1:49 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
>> Subject:      Another "nearly" from the wrong side
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> "Ackerman disclosed that he sold 39.1 million shares to the bank for
>> $12.60 per share ... That's nearly half of the average $25 a share
>> that he paid when he first invested in Penney in 2010."
>> For me, "nearly half" would be $12.40 a share.  Although I suppose
>> that if one is watching one's investment on its way down, $12.60 is
>> nearly $12.50.
>> "Ackerman takes a $400m bath on J.C. Penney".  Anne d'Innocenzio,
>> Associated Press.  August 29.
>> Joel
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
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