Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

When I Say Everyone Can’t, I Mean It!

Posted by Neal on June 21, 2004

One time back in elementary school, I heard a teacher talking about the logistics of an upcoming field trip, and she said something like this:

Everyone can’t fit on the bus.

I was confused. Did she seriously mean to say that not a single one of us could fit on the bus? How was that possible? Oh, wait—she must mean that not everyone could fit on the bus. But even when I’d figured out what she’d really meant, mentally attaching the intended meaning to the actual utterance was like trying to push two magnets together the wrong way.
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