Is "almost exactly" an oxymoron?

If it is not an oxymoron, is there anything wrong with using the term to describe something? For example: “that thing is identical to this thing in every way except for one detail. It is almost exactly the same.”



Background to this question: I am having an argument with some colleagues. I used this term to describe something and they have pointed out that I cannot use that term. One is calling it an oxymoron and the other is saying it is not an oxymoron but it is gramatically incorrect. :dubious:

Neither of them are convinced despite you backing my position.

I don’t see how it’s grammatically incorrect. Logically or semantically incorrect, perhaps, but a phrase doesn’t have to make sense to be grammatically correct. Chomsky’s famous example “colorless green ideas sleep furiously” is nonsense, but grammatical nonsense. Not quite the same thing, because it doesn’t contain any contradiction, as your colleague is asserting that your example does. But I don’t see any contradiction between “almost” and “exactly”, so I don’t consider it logically incorrect or an oxymoron.

Can’t see any contradiction - it’s actually a reasonably lucid and precise way to describe something that would be exact, if not for a very small difference.

You could use ‘almost full’ in the same way - and that obviously isn’t an oxymoron.

“Slightly exactly” would be.

I’d say “colorless” and “green” are pretty mutually exclusive. Though I agree 100% with everybody else, it’s a perfectly fine phrase and a useful one at that. If they still make a stink, though, “almost identical” would work in a pinch in the context you gave.

Colleague number one has this response: What is the difference between “slightly” and “almost”?

They’re different gradients. “Slightly” is a descriptor that controls a gradient assuming it HAS that property, “almost” is a descriptor that controls a gradient assuming it does NOT have that property.

If something is SLIGHTLY green, it is definitely green, but the wavelength is numerically close to being out of the range of greenness. If something is ALMOST green it is NOT green, but the wavelength is numerically close to the range you call green.

For any given property, “exact” has a large number of states where it can be false, but only one where it can be true. For a number to be exactly the same as 2021, it has to be 2021, but there’s an infinite amount of numbers that aren’t 2021 where that statement is false. However, if the number is very close, like 2022, or 2020 – we can say they’re “almost” exactly the same because, despite the property of “exactness” being false – it approaches exactness. “Slightly” will never make sense with “exactly” because there’s exactly one way for it to be exact – 2021, nothing can change, and thus there is no condition where it has the property but it is close to NOT having it.

I realize my explanation could use some work, but it’s the only real way I can think of to explain it.

They are on opposite sides of the spectrum. “Slightly blue” might refer to something with a light tint of blue, while “almost blue” could refer to a bright bluish-green, for instance.

“Slightly exact” is only weird because it gives no baseline reference, unlike “almost exact” (where the baseline is truly exact). It sounds odd for the same reason that Douglas Adams’ “almost but not entirely unlike tea” is funny.

Ninja’d on the color analogy–damn. Maybe I earn points for the HHGTTG reference.

My ex- used to say that she “usually never” did something or other. Drove me nuts.

Depending on the context, that one can actually make sense.

“When I’m playing that game, I usually never buy potions.”

In this case, “usually” probably refers to a specific save file or INSTANCE of the game. For instance, it could be synonymous with “on most characters I don’t buy potions.” It’s saying “Given a set of scenarios, in the majority of them this action didn’t occur.”

Basically, “usually” is a meta-word, referring to the SET of scenarios, whereas “never” is limited to within a specific scenario. In the sentence “Children usually never go on murderous rampages” – “usually” refers to the set of children, but “never” refers to the number of times a specific child in the set has gone on a murderous rampage.

It’s a little bit wonky, though, and it’s probably best to reword it in a formal paper.

I think she was trying to say “rarely.”

I wasn’t trying to be a jerk. The answer is obvious if you know what the words mean and how english grammar works. I suggest letting your coworkers believe whatever they want. Works for me!

In the example “slightly exactly” “slightly” indicates the degree of exactitude. However, “exact” is binary; either something is exact or it is not. In the example “almost exactly” “almost” indicates the degree of inexactitude. In other words, change only one or a very few qualities of the thing and it will qualify as exact, whereas in the previous example “slightly” is redundant because every exact thing is only a single degree away from being inexact.

edit: Oh, someone already answered this. Guess I should read all of threads before replying.

Certainly nothing we say will convince them.

“Settle this argument for me” threads only go one of two ways:

  1. The online consensus agrees with the OP; This fails to convince the other party.

  2. The online consensus disagrees with the OP; the OP gets huffy and storms off to ask somewhere else.

Yes, so why don’t you first ask them if they know the difference between a contradiction and an oxymoron, Saffer? Then point out to them them that it’s not a grammatical issue. Before you even engage with them, make sure they know what they’re talking about.

This made me laugh. I have seen a thread or 2 where the online consensus disagrees with the OP, yet failed to convince the OP. In this case I did say to my colleagues that I would be more than happy to say that I am wrong, if the concensus goes that way.
Also, one of them has been convinced by this thread and has reversed his original position. The other is still convinced he is correct and has claimed that “all those americans can’t speak proper english anyway!”. :smack:

At that point you turn to Shakespeare, who probably used the debated word or phrase many times, freely and artfully. But whereas the usage became obsolete in Britain, it was kept alive in America.

Doesn’t always happen, but man, I love it when it does.

Well, there’s the problem. We’re speaking American, not English. :smiley: