I don't understand the use of the phrase "falling and missing the ground". How can one fall and miss the ground? What does it mean?


Apologies. I found the use of the phrase at http://www.scq.ubc.ca/how-to-fly/

  • 1
    We need more context. Can you copy&paste the full sentence? Perhaps there wasn't ground where it was supposed to be...?
    – nodakai
    Nov 21, 2014 at 4:34
  • 2
    @nodakai: Sounds like a reference to Douglas Adams, where he describes how to fly.
    – John Y
    Nov 21, 2014 at 4:43
  • @John Y ~ that occurred to me too, but I have also heard it used to describe somebody who never achieves the end result, as in "if he fell he would miss the ground". Similar to "couldn't hit a barn from the inside". Nov 21, 2014 at 5:06
  • @nodakai - Apologies. I have included the source of the phrase.
    – Motivated
    Nov 21, 2014 at 5:32
  • @John Y - It is
    – Motivated
    Nov 21, 2014 at 5:33

1 Answer 1


That's either a sarcastic comment, or a paradox or an absurdity.

  • A form of wit that is marked by the use of sarcastic language and is intended to make its victim the butt of contempt or ridicule.
  • An assertion that is essentially self-contradictory, though based on a valid deduction from acceptable premises.

If you read it in reference to orbiting a planet, it's a paradox. If you fall, gravity will always bring you to the ground. Some say that orbiting is falling (because you are subject to the Earth's gravitational field), but not hitting the ground, because velocity keeps you from doing so.

Some pilots like to joke that flying is easy; what's hard is learning how to miss the ground. It's kind of an absurdity. It's reducing the very complex to a simple untruth.

So one of Douglas Adams' characters (Arthur Dent) manages to learn to fly by falling and missing the ground. (Life, the Universe and Everything, book 3 of 5 in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)

If it was said sarcastically, it can mean a stupefying degree of ineptness:

"He can't do anything. He could fall and miss the ground."

Conversely, it could indicate a great success from what was surely considered by most to be a failing:

He fell and missed the ground. (It looked bad but he ended soaring to great heights.)

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