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We can't be reminded too often to do or say the right things.
We can't be reminded too often that relationships are valuable or that reconciliation is worth pursuing.

What does this "can't be reminded too often" combination mean? Is this an idiom?

  • Be careful with the usage, it can very ambiguous and easily misunderstood. – Jolenealaska Apr 4 '14 at 16:51
  • I wouldn't really call it an idiom, since the words are all used with their most common and expected definition. Even though the phrase is commonly misunderstood, the word usage is all straightforward. Nothing is figurative, even though the whole phrase is a bit of an exaggeration. – Jolenealaska Apr 4 '14 at 23:37
4

Let's say my daughter is 7, and she wants to play with her friend who lives across the street. On Saturday, before heading out the door, I remind her:

Be careful when you cross the street. Be sure to look both ways first.

On Sunday, she wants to play again. So I say:

Make sure you look both ways before you cross the street!

On Monday, after school, she asks me if she can go visit her friend. I answer:

Sure you can, as long as you remember to be careful when you cross the street.

On Tuesday, the conversation might go like this:

Can I go play with Zelda?
Sure you can. Just make sure you're careful when you cross the street.
Why do you always tell me that?
Because, crossing the street can be dangerous. You can't be reminded too often to be careful.

Another related expression is: I can't emphasize enough. I could have said:

Crossing the street can be dangerous. I can't emphasize enough: you need to be careful.'

Both expressions essentially mean: I realize I may have told you this before, but, this is so important, I'd feel better if you'd let me remind you again.

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  • +1 for the story this makes things clearer. In fact, I din' think this phrase this way. This is useful ;) – Maulik V Apr 5 '14 at 5:33
4

What it is supposed to mean is that such reminders are so important that the more often we hear them, the better. There is no such thing as being reminded too often. There are many variations of the turn of phrase, but beware. Saturday Night Live did a whole skit once about just how ambiguous that phrasing can be. "You can't add too much pepper to this soup." Is that cautionary? Don't add too much? Or is it suggesting that the more pepper, the better?

EDIT: My concern is not that the ambiguity is built into the phrasing, it's not. The correct meaning is "the more the better". The problem with this particular turn of phrase is that it is so often misunderstood, even used incorrectly. Since the whole point of language is to communicate, I recommend avoiding using this type of phrase except with very fluent speakers of English, or at least being sure that you include enough context that your point is very clear.

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  • O_o It means "the more pepper, the better." The humor of the skit is not relevant to everyday speech. – relaxing Apr 4 '14 at 17:29
  • @relaxing I agree 99 times out of 100. – Jolenealaska Apr 4 '14 at 17:30
  • Certainly I've never used the turn of phrase any other way. I did a bit of Googling though, before I posted my answer, and was surprised to see that it is actually often (mistakenly) interpreted differently. – Jolenealaska Apr 4 '14 at 17:39
  • You can't say the correct meaning is definitely "the more the better". That is patently untrue, as there is ambiguity in the meaning. To me it means "be careful not to add too much pepper, or you will spoil it". Both meanings are possible, and the intended one will depend on intonation. – toandfro Apr 5 '14 at 0:23
  • That's kind of the point. I really don't think that meaning is valid. But if you think it is, therein lies the ambiguity. Although I agree definitely is too strong of a word, I'll delete that. I stand by 99 times out of 100 though. – Jolenealaska Apr 5 '14 at 0:48
-6

Can't [anything] too often means do the action in moderation. Perhaps you and the person speaking are returning from a class explaining something, and you don't want to get tired of hearing the content again and again.

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  • 2
    In fact it means the opposite. – relaxing Apr 4 '14 at 17:28

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