sheep and lambI recently wrote about the ambiguity of one term having two definitions that are opposites (see my blog post called Peruse This).

Here’s another, opposite conundrum of the English language: there are cases where two opposite phrases or clauses have the same meaning. Consider these two sentences:

  1. There is a slim chance that I will win the lottery.
  2. Me, win the lottery? Fat chance!

Both examples mean that me winning the lottery is unlikely. But how can it be that slim chance and fat chance mean the same thing?

The answer is . . . sarcasm. (The English language is so straightforward.)

Here’s another example for all ye grammar geeks and usage yuppies:

  1. I could not care less.
  2. I could care less.

Oddly enough, these sentences are used interchangeably in colloquial speech. How can it be that two sentences that are identical, except for the presence or absence of not, mean the same thing?

Sarcasm isn’t the culprit this time. Here, it’s a lazy tendency for speakers to omit words. The second example above should technically have a not (or a n’t), which has been omitted for brevity (and also probably due to confusion about a statement that contains something akin to a double negative).

However, don’t try getting away with omitting not in other instances. For example, say a bully comes up to you and says this:

“Hey, bookface!! I’ve got brass knuckles on!”

Try responding like this:

“I really do give a shit about your brass knuckles!”

Next, try confusing the bully by explaining how simultaneously slim and fat your chances of winning a fistfight are.

Then hop on the “Conjunction Junction” train and speed outta there, humming a farewell ditty to Bob Dorough.