On occasion we get lured into saying the opposite of what we mean. I was reminded of this a few days ago when I read the following sentence in an article extolling the many strengths of the hit TV show This Is Us: “You can’t underestimate the quality of the performances.” Hmm. Is that supposed to be a compliment?
What the writer meant to express was “You can’t overestimate the quality of the performances.” That is to say, in a rather figurative sense, no matter how high you go in praising the acting, even greater accolades would be deserved.
(“Underestimate” would be used correctly, however, in “We anticipated completing our project in March, but we underestimated the complexity of the final phase.”)
A similar misstep involves saying “I could care less,” as in “I just learned the boss can’t attend my retirement party, but I could care less.” No, it’s the opposite. Surely, the speaker means that, having no particular affection for her boss, she “couldn’t care less.”
And here’s a tricky one: “Clyde inferred that the project will miss the deadline.” That was correctly written if Clyde was drawing meaning from something he heard or read. But if Clyde was delivering a cryptic message, he was implying. Those who drew conclusions from his hinting were inferring (making inferences).
So if you merely imply something, I need to infer what you mean.
As writers, we want to ensure that we are always taking our readers in the right direction.