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'Near Miss'
Almost a hit

By Evan Jenkins

Jim Benes of WBBM Newsradio 78, Chicago’s all-news station, e-mailed recently to report a running battle — certain morning-drive staff members vs. evening-drive, as it happened — over the phrase “near miss.” The morning people, he said, thought the term could be confusing: “After all, if you nearly miss something, don’t you hit it?” At first blush, “near miss” does seem to be a contradiction in terms, even though it’s deeply ingrained in the language. But Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (1994), tracing the phrase to World War II, notes its ubiquity and concludes that “despite its apparent lack of logic, it is not an error.” Fowler’s Modern English Usage defines a near miss simply as “a miss that was nearly a hit.” (That’s from the 1968 edition; the 1996 Fowler’s omits the phrase, which suggests that it’s no longer deemed worthy of discussion.) As an alternative, “near-collision” is unambiguous and unchallengeable. But WBBM’s evening-drive cadre is also on target, as it were, with “near miss.”

CJR

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Sept / Oct 08

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