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    #1

    you can't be too careful

    Hello!

    In the Oxford Dictionary, which shows that “you can’t be too careful” means “you should take care to avoid danger or problems.” See IDM 1, http://www.oup.com/oald-bin/web_getald7index1a.pl

    But when I first heard this phrase, I just thought it means “Oh, you don’t even need to be careful, it is okay, everything is going to be okay.”

    Could you tell me why this phrase “you can’t be too careful” means “you should be very careful”? How do you interpret it in this way? Thank you!

  1. Soup's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: you can't be too careful

    Hi XINLAI-UE

    The original saying is Latin Abundans cautela non nocet, translation: abundant caution does not harm, means that even excessive precautions don't hurt anyone.

  2. konungursvia's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: you can't be too careful

    Yes, but the difficulty here is the distinct change in rhetoric in 19th vs 20th century English. Consider the sentence....

    "I can't eat too many bananas."

    In Victorian times, everyone would understand it as follows: a million bananas would never be too much, I love bananas so.

    In our time, nearly everyone would interepret it in this way: I don't want to eat bananas very much.

    So, "you can't be too careful" means that no amount of caution is too much, as an excess of caution is a good thing.

    Most idioms and proverbs follow an older logic and rhetoric.


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    #4

    Re: you can't be too careful

    Thanks for your help, Soup and konungursvia! Your explanation helps me a lot!! I get it now!

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