This is a guest post by Julie Link. If you want to write for Daily Writing Tips check the guidelines here.
“I love France,” my friend sighed, and I nodded my agreement. “I miss not being there,” she added. Huh? My commiseration over lost croissants gave way to puzzlement over this odd expression. You love it, but you regret not being absent from it?
A quick perusal of the internet yielded more instances of the erroneous idiom. A headline on .OhGizmo.com laments, “Goodbye, F-117A. We’ll Miss Not Seeing You.” A query posted on WikiAnswers.com asks “How do you say i miss not seeing you in french” [sic]?
Dictionary.com defines the verb “to miss” as “to regret the absence or loss of: I miss you all dreadfully.” The definition makes clear that what my friend missed was being in France rather than not being in France. How did “I miss being there” morph into “I miss not being there”?
I’ve never seen the expression misused when the object of the verb is a person or a thing. Does anyone say “I miss not my mom?” (Well, perhaps, but that’s a topic for another day.) No, we all understand that that when we miss something or someone, we regret its absence or loss. We miss the warmth of summer, Gran’s apple pie, or a dear friend.
The problem occurs only when what is missed is an action: “I miss seeing you,” “The children miss playing at the beach,” or “Nana misses rocking her grandbabies.” Perhaps the error derives from trying to emphasize the regret. Doesn’t not rocking the babies sound sadder than rocking them? But to add the word “not” is to create a double negative. Parsing my friend’s remark, for example, would suggest that what she regrets is being in France; that was not what she intended to convey. The definition of “miss” already denotes a negative—the absence or loss of something—so the addition of the word “not” negates the loss and creates, if not an arithmetic positive, then at least a grammatical confusion.
Why this simple expression, so easily grasped that children use it comfortably, becomes so slippery when a few words are added is difficult to explain. An understanding of grammar is helpful; diagramming the sentence (Does anyone do that nowadays?) would demonstrate that whether what is being missed is a person, a thing, or an action, the structure of the phrase does not change. Rather than exposit the grammatical technicalities of gerunds and direct objects, I think I’ll cogitate over a croissant. The only problem is that I miss not counting calories.
About the Author: Julie Link is an experienced editor and avid lexiphile who loves reading and writing about language and grammar. She may be contacted at [email protected].