All but
Andie_In_ USA
Hello Word Detectives!
I'm baffled by the expression "all but" as in "After the tornado ripped through our small town, it was all but destroyed". I read it to mean that the town WAS destroyed, yet literally it seems to say "everything else except destroyed". Either way, it's a maddenlingly illogical expression!
Best regards, Andie
This is a little off etymology, but the semantics of the epxression "...all but..." used in such expressions is equivalent to "almost" or "almost entirely." The logic stems from the other, supposed or presumed, properties attributed to the object.

As with your example, the town was damaged. The town suffered. The town endured a great hardship. The event took a mighty toll, it did a great many things, and it might even have almost destroyed the town, but it stopped just short of that. That is, it all but destroyed the town. In this case, the "all" refers to the general havoc to which the town was exposed, and while this included great destruction, the actual destruction of the entire town as a whole is excepted (but that's the only thing, as it were).

Lewis Joplin II
This reminds me of a couple of phrases:

All over but the shouting.
All over but the crying.

Frank Pierce
It boils down to a question which you raise in my mind: Is the word "but" used as a reasonable synonym for "except"? I'd have no problem with a phrase like "did all EXCEPT destroy..." It stands the test of logic.

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