Under- and over-estimation

A John Inverdale quote from tonight’s England vs. France post-match analysis put into question the premise behind its more common opposite:

Now Jonny Wilkinson: you can’t overestimate his importance in tonight’s game.

At first, I thought Inverdale was wrong. Surely he’d meant underestimate, right? But on analysing, it seems he’s right: if I estimate his importance, then the fact that this estimate cannot ever be too high suggests that he performed pretty well.

The counter is that we can’t underestimate his performance. And surprisingly, this is equally valid. But the can’t brings with it a different meaning.

  • Can’t underestimate: the estimator should not underestimate the importance, or do so at his/her peril
  • Can’t overestimate: there is no way that the estimator could ever overestimate, no matter how hard he tried

It’s a confusing language.

Posted by Dan, 23 February, 2008 under Grammar | Thoughts

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