In basketball, the phrase “Nothing but net!” indicates that a player has made a shot so accurate that—on its way to the hoop—it touched neither backboard nor rim, but instead travelled unencumbered straight into the arms of net. It’s a term of endearment, therefore, for shots that not only score, but are accurate in a particular, elite way. Such shots can arise from various basketball plays (jump shots, hook shots, Michael Jordan vs Larry Bird advertising McDonalds shots), but, let me repeat: to be counted as a Nothing but net shot, the ball must travel from the player’s hands to the net without touching anything but that net.

I reiterate this definition because it is apparently not as simple as it sounds. Twice recently I’ve overheard television announcers witness an excellent basketball scoring play, but in which the ball hit the backboard before going into the net, and yet the commentator has nevertheless claimed, “Nothing but net!”

“But,” I replied from my couch, “it hit more than net… it hit backboard… and then rim… and only then net.”

After several hours of soul-searching, I realized that these commentators did not actually realize that the words in “Nothing but net!” have meaning beyond being a cool bit of emphasis. You see, during their commentator training, they must have noticed the phrase was always expressed in excitement towards a great shot, so the newcomer announcers logically must have assumed that “Nothing but net!” was just a fancy way to say, “Great shot!”

If you don’t believe me that newbies to expressions can sometimes confuse emphasis for meaning, consider the statement: “He’s literally out of his mind!”

For those who aren’t familiar with the error in this usage, I’ll bring in guest SethBlogger, Dr. Frasier Crane, for illumination. Frasier, take it away:

Hee, hee, well done, Frasier! Special SethBlogs’ Contest: can you identify the voice of the literally defeated caller? I’ll give you a hint, this isn’t the first time he’s been accused of being Dumb & Dumber (and it’s not Jim Carrey)

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