Near miss? Or near hit?

Someone recently directed me to a discussion of a point I have never though about before.

If a disaster nearly occurs, we might describe the event as a near disaster. The event is not a species of disaster, it is a species of non-disaster.

Yet when one object nearly hits another object, we use logic that seems the opposite. We describe the event as a near miss, not as a near hit. This is so, even though the event was a species of miss, not a species of hit.

The article I read on this topic was

A brief thought on this

Though I can’t quite put my finger on why, to me it seems right to use the terms:

  • near catastrophe for an event that didn’t cause a catastrophe, though it nearly did. It would sound clumsy and unclear to describe this as a near non-catastrophe.
  • near miss for an event that was a miss, but was nearly a hit. We could call that a near hit, but that sounds more like a species of hit than like a species of miss.

Of course, there is often an element of arbitrariness in such phrases, and perhaps it is simply the case that near miss has come to have an idiomatic meaning.

Close shave?

Near miss does have a close metaphorical synonym in close shave. But in their literal meanings, a close shave is a species of shave. And in the metaphorical meaning, a shave (whether close or loose) is not a hit at all.  A close shave is not a hit, but it is closer to being a hit than a loose shave is.  

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