i-tried-to-grab-fog-but-i-mistSo what does the humorous saying “I tried to grab (the) fog but I mist” mean?

In this vocabulary and pronunciation lesson, we’ll try to learn what this saying means by studying a series of scenarios and real-life examples. We’ll also discover some pronunciation patterns in English.

Let’s start with our first scenario…

You are sitting at your desk working. After a couple of hours you feel like coffee, so you reach out to pick up your empty cup to go and pour yourself another cup of coffee, but as you are still concentrating on your work, you are careless and knock the cup off the table… now the cup is falling to the floor… it is in mid-air… you react quickly and instinctively and try to grab the cup in mid-air… but you are not quick enough… you miss the cup, it falls onto the floor and breaks into a thousand pieces. Unlucky!

I hope you can now feel what ‘grab’ and ‘miss’ mean. When you grab something, you try to catch it in a quick, sudden and rough way.

Here are some more examples:

  • If you are walking in the park alone and are not careful enough, a thief may grab your handbag and run away with it…
  • Or if you are walking with your child and he suddenly tries to cross the street, you will grab their arm to stop them running onto the road.

Now if try to grab something which is falling, you will only manage to grab or catch it if you are really quick, but if you are not quick enough, you mill miss it.

Obviously, you can grab something solid, an object, like a cup, you just need to be quick, but what if you tried to grab something which was not solid, for example a liquid (like water) or a gas (like air)?

That takes us to our second scenario…

Imagine driving along a mountain road on a foggy day. Obviously you are driving slowly because you cannot see what is in front you very well because of the fog. You are listening to music, you are tired, you are thinking about your problems… and you don’t notice your son, who is sitting in the back seat, rolling down the window and putting his hand out. He keeps playing with the while stuff in the air (the fog), trying to grab it with his hand, and of course every time he does it, he misses… (because you can’t grab fog, can you?)… until you notice it and tell him to stop doing it because it is dangerous, and roll up the window.

And now our third scenario…

You are on holiday with a person you love… He or she is perfect in almost every way except for one thing: a tendency to exaggerate, which means he/she sees things (and talks about them) in a way that makes them seem better, worse, bigger, more important… than they really are. For example, talking about the cold he/she had last week, he/she may say, “it felt like the end of the world, I nearly died!”

Woman drawing curtain asideAnyway, you are on holiday with this wonderful person… in this little house you have rented in a romantic little town (say somewhere in Italy?)… it’s morning… and as this person is just perfect, he/she has waken up before you, prepared breakfast, and now you are going to have your breakfast in bed, so the man/woman of your dreams goes to the window and draws aside the curtains to let in some light… and says, “Oh no, it’s all foggy outside!”… so you get out of bed and have a look for yourself and see that it is not really a fog, it’s too light, too thin, to be called fog, so you tell him/her, “You are exaggerating again darling… it’s just the morning mist! It will lift in an hour and we’ll have a clear sunny day.

(Yes, mist is thin fog. If you want a more scientific explanation, it is an atmospheric condition with a horizontal visibility of 1–2 kilometres. Fog is thicker than mist. Mist is thinner than fog.)

I hope by now you can see what we are getting at…

The saying “I tried to grab fog but I mist” is based on a pun, a play on words. We are playing on the two words “missed” and “mist”.

Some of you might think that this is not a very good play on words because “missed” and “mist” do not have the same pronunciation, which spoils the pun a little.

But that is not the case because “missed” and “mist” do indeed have the same exact pronunciation!

Here is how it works…

In English, the suffix “-ed” can be pronounced:

  • /d/ for example: walked, brushed, crossed, kissed
  • /t/ for example: admired, caused, filled, studied
  • /ɪd/ for example: wanted, heated, added, expanded

There is a very simple rule in work here:

  • /d/ after voiced sounds (other than /d/)
  • /t/ after voiceless sounds (other than /t/)
  • /ɪd/ after /t/ or /d/

What are voiced and voiceless (or unvoiced) sounds, you ask?

Well, voiced sounds are sounds in which your larynx or voice box works and vibrates. This includes all the vowels in English and consonants like /z/ (as in buzz), /ʒ/ (as in measure), /g/ (as in beg) etc.

Unvoiced sounds are sounds in which your larynx is inactive and doesn’t vibrate. This includes consonants like /s/ (as in kiss), /ʃ/ (as in brush), /k/ (as in like) etc.

The verb “miss” is pronounced /mɪs/. Since the final sound is the voiceless consonant /s/, the suffix -ed is pronounced /t/…

So, “missed” (the past tense of the verb “miss”) is pronounced /mɪst/.
Which is, of course, exactly how the noun “mist” is pronounced: /mɪst/.

It’s the perfect pun, you see!

Time for a coffee…

And that, my dear friends, brings this rather long lesson to an end.

Now it’s time for me to make myself that steaming cup of coffee I have been waiting for, put my feet up, and fall into a reverie. You see, this lesson has made me think about the story of my own life… Yes, I tried to grab fog but I mist… or did I? 😉