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.

It’s a confusing language.

Comments

3 Responses to “Under- and over-estimation”

  1. art vandelay on February 24th, 2008 06:34

    This was very good.

  2. M J Maddox on March 11th, 2010 13:47

    Is it the language that is confusing, or the use of the language?

    If the second meaning is desired, that is “one should not” underestimate” the player’s ability, then why not choose the unambiguous word over the ambiguous?

    I just wrote (March 11, 2010) an article on this topic at http://www.DailyWritingTips.com

  3. Dan on March 11th, 2010 13:51

    I think either can be mis-interpreted, but under- has become the standard. I agree that under- is less ambiguous. My post (which is over two years old now) was merely to highlight the dichotomy and the lovely subtlety that graces our language 🙂

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