Is “stop believing that your current state is anything but temporary” a mistake in meaning here?


Accepting that you are homeless is a pretty hard pill to swallow, said Horvath. Maybe seeing yourself as "not homeless" is a good thing, added Pruss. When you stop believing that your current state is anything but temporary, the going gets a lot tougher, he said.
Source: Brenoff, Ann. 7 Myths About Homeless People Debunked.

I think it is supposed to be "when you start believing that your current state is anything but temporary, the going gets a lot tougher" since the context is that accepting homeless is permanent makes people sad. What do you think? Is this a mistake?


Posted 2014-06-30T23:35:51.297


4This question appears to be off-topic because it is about basic semantics and logic, not English as such. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-07-01T16:51:59.580

9This question appears to be on-topic because semantics is part of language. – snailplane – 2014-07-02T03:06:16.883

5@FumbleFingers: what?? Since when is English semantics off-topic here? (Hint: in some languages, double negatives are the norm, whereas in English, they can be seen as illogical. That doesn't make them a question of logic rather than of language.) – Martha – 2014-07-02T17:20:49.720

@Martha: I know this is a learners site, but it still seems to me that the difference between *start* and *stop* (which is all we're dealing with here) is simply too basic to justify everyone falling over themselves to keep the question open and upvote an actual answer saying OP's citation is just a mistake. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-07-02T17:49:59.470

2@FumbleFingers: when you read the quote with "stop", didn't you know exactly what it meant, despite the actual words saying the opposite of what it meant? It's a mistake, yes, but it's not "just" a mistake. – Martha – 2014-07-02T18:06:03.647

@Martha: I knew what it was bound to mean, as per the last sentence in Ricky's answer (basic knowledge of the real world, not exactly "language" as such). To an extent, OP's text after the citation saved me the trouble of decoding the convoluted phrasing in order to realise that it didn't actually say the only thing that would make sense. You could just as well "fix" it by removing anything but, but to me it's screamingly obvious there's a *logic* error there, not a matter of English as such. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-07-02T20:09:50.150

2@FumbleFingers: and yet, this kind of logic error that can exist while still carrying the actual meaning is something quite typical for the English language. There are scores of people saying that they could care less when they mean the exact opposite. Their intention is, however, understood, and it is interesting to notice that the English language is flexible enough to accommodate for these kind of logical errors without losing its ability to carry the intended message. – oerkelens – 2014-07-08T15:11:19.997

@oerkelens: I guess you're right. The average speaker (or at least, a lot of them) aren't very good at "processing" multiple conditionals and negations in a single utterance (either when producing or understanding them). Luckily, in most contexts it's pretty obvious what the intended net total effect of such "cascaded" modifiers should be. Still, I'd have thought that's a characteristic of humans, and thus language in general. This Q is a bit like asking whether Anglophones tend to speak more quietly when admitting something they're ashamed of. They do, because everybody does. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-07-10T12:13:31.207

@FumbleFingers - I haven't done the necessary research but I have the feeling that the way English deals with negations and conditionals is quite specific. I don't notice as many of these logically-wrong but still readily understood expressions in Dutch, French or Greek. Yet, I guess that up to some point, the problem with constructing fully (logically) correct messages, luckily combined with the ability to parse imperfect expressions into a meaningful message is probably a pretty universal thing. – oerkelens – 2014-07-10T12:45:24.260

My well-intentioned laying-out of this contradiction may have meant a besmirched linguistic reputation for the author. So I wish, if possible, that this thread would meet, from now onward, much less attention, as it has done over the past week or so. – None – 2014-07-11T02:19:40.400

@oerkelens, could care less is in a different category. That's not a mistake, it's a recognized idiom. – CoolHandLouis – 2015-02-26T21:24:05.557



It is (almost certainly) a mistake. It should either be

When you stop believing that your current state is temporary, the going gets a lot tougher.

... or

When you start believing your current state is anything but temporary, the going gets a lot tougher.

This is an accidental slip of the tongue brought about by a needlessly complicated sentence structure (I'm a native English speaker and it took me a few tries to actually figure out that the words don't say what they seem to say). The intended meaning is probably clear enough that most readers would not be fazed.

Ricky Stewart

Posted 2014-06-30T23:35:51.297

Reputation: 280

2+1 for "accidental". People talk in prefabricated chunks, and when they occasionally get misaligned nobody notices. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2014-07-01T00:53:23.533