Usage of phrase "all but"

(using the SDMB search for this is impossible as far as I can tell)

I don’t like this phrase. The majority of the time it is used it simply doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes I see it used in what I would consider a ‘correct’ way and I feel all warm and fuzzy inside…but that’s far and few between.
First example

What do you mean, “all but” gave up? SHE DID GIVE UP HER RIGHTS!

Here’s an example I would consider ‘correct’: I went to the kitchen. I took out some bread, knives, dishes, peanut butter, and jelly. I left. I all but made a PB&J sandwich! That is to say, I didn’t make one.

Second example

But…it is over. There won’t be a meaningful season. The hopes are dashed.

In the latest Scientific America (March 2005), page 30 lower right (which is what sparked me to start this thread):

(emphasis mine)

starts to twitch B-B-But the hopes HAVE faded. Not only has it been pulled and shown to be useless but they are abandoning the project and moving on! How can there be any hope left?

Now, to end this…I found an example I consider used correctly:
Hooray for smut!

Yes! Bravo! Right? Right? Am I being silly/stupid/ignorant about all this or do I perceive a real usage problem?

It’s an idiom. English is full of 'em, and they’re not going away any time soon. You don’t like it? Hold your tongue.

“All but” means almost, nearly, practically, or virtually. It sometimes means everything except something.

I couldn’t get your first link to work, but it appears to me that the woman did not simply sign away her rights but agreed to something that with a little extra condition met, would effectively strip her of her rights. So that’s an OK usage.

Second example: The headline says “Season hopes all but dashed”, and that is exactly what happed. There is still hope but not much. In other words the season hopes are almost or nearly dashed. That one’s OK, too.

Third example: This one depends on how you want to consider the word “faded”. If it means diminished then you’re right. All but diminished doesn’t make sense since you are talking about a continum. If you see “faded” as “faded to nothingness” then you might be able to make a case for the “all but” phrase, but I think it’s a stretch.

Last example: In this case “all but” means everything but smut. This is correct but a slightly different usage than the others.

I do have to grant that it was misused, in at least the first and last examples given.

In addition to its literal meaning (with ‘but’ being synonymous with ‘except’), as in “…whence all but he had fled…” – i.e., of a group, all members except the one(s) named acted as described by the verb, it carries the idiomatic meaning of an emphatic “nearly” or “almost.” The second and third usages do not explicitly say that the hopes (for a NHL season and for a successful new drug) have completely been eliminated, but only a thin thread remains – the hopes have almost or nearly been eliminated but not quite. (Of course, subsequent developments did eliminate the NHL season, but as of the time of the story, this was not yet true.)

In those two examples, “all but” in the idiomatic use is correctly used. In the first and last examples, as defined by mstay (I didn’t check the stories), it’s misused, because (according to mstay) the condition which “all but” specifies is absolutely true.

A plant which is all but dead is in fact still alive, but so nearly dead that heroic efforts are needed to revive it. Hopes that have all but faded are still alive but very faint. A road that is all but completely blocked remains open, but is so nearly completely blocked that traffic is badly tied up trying to get throug the small remaining open area.

Losing custody of a child does not mean that you have* no rights * to the child. In this case the claim the the woman was “totally stripped her of her rights” is being made by an attorney, and attorneys have a license to hyperbole. The headline was written by a journalist who was trying to cut through the crap and be objective. The woman may have *all but * given up her rights to the child, but she did not totally and completely give up her rights.

The first example is a correct usage. The article states clearly that Blakely did not give up all rights:

She could still visit.

The second example is correct. The season is not ended until a formal cancellation announcement is given. You may correctly assume that the season is over, but no responsible straight news story should be saying forthrightly a mere assumption. They are indicating how close the season is to being absolutely finished by using the “all but” locution.

The third example is also correct. The maker has not stopped production of the drug. It has not given up all hope for marketing the drug in places outside Europe. Hope is not yet dead, although a blockbuster is unlikely.

Clearly, the “all but” locution indicates a state in which formal withdrawal has not yet been announced. I don’t see what your problem is.

It is being used incorrectly in the fourth example, which is hyperbole. The filters are not literally blocking “all but smut.” They are blocking many things, but allowing some - and almost certainly not all - smut through. Whether the usage is literally correct or not, it is also clearly a different use of the term than in the other examples.

So the score is “all but” - 4, mstay - 0.

In the thread about the Deborah Gibson Playboy photos, the consensus is that most of Ms. Debbie is ordinary. The appeal was all butt.