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"Almost" mollifies certainty. In butcher's language, it tenderizes certainty. It is anti-certainty, anti-conviction and, by definition therefore, anti-omniscience. Authors use "almost" to avoid stating an outright fact, as though there were something inauthentic, dishonest, unfinished, undecided or even unwholesome -- some might say repulsive, tacky, snub-nosed, too direct -- in qualifying anything as definitely a this or a that.

André Aciman, author, most recently, of "Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere." He teaches at the CUNY Graduate Center and is the director of the Writers' Institute.


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