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I tipped over a bottle of water on my desk, but managed to right it before it spilled out completely, leaving a small pool. My coworker said "close call," which is, to me, a little imprecise because something bad actually did happen (i.e., water did spill from the bottle).

However, the scale of the spill was smaller than it could have been had I not immediately righted the bottle. Is there a word/phrase more suited to this situation?

  • 1
    "Quit while you're behind!" is often recommended when one occasions minor mishaps. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 27 '16 at 19:55
  • If the whole bottle had spilled, would the damage have been significantly worse? – Dan Sep 27 '16 at 23:49
  • Probably not. It only would have been more odious to clean. – Michael K Sep 27 '16 at 23:51
  • I feel your coworker's response was quite appropriate as explained by Papa Poule in an answer. – alwayslearning Sep 28 '16 at 6:16
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"Good save!" immediately springs to my mind for this situation. It implies that the effort involved in rectifying the situation (righting the bottle) was worthy of note. It can also imply that the situation was of your own making (that you spilled the bottle in the first place).

Unfortunately the same phrase is also commonly used when rectifying a social "faux pas", for example this excerpt from another stack exchange question:

Could someone tell me please what the phrases "good save" and "nice save" means and how to translate them in French.

G: "So how do I look?"

L: "You are now officially the most beautiful bride that ever lived."

L. looks at S. jealous.

L: "Until your wedding, of course."

S: "Nice save."

I don't know of any phrase that specifically alludes to something marginally bad happening but being prevented from being worse.

Hope that helps/interests you :)

  • I think that's right on. – Michael K Sep 27 '16 at 21:05
  • @english_dude "Nice save". It's just not cricket, I'd say! How's that? – Peter Point Sep 27 '16 at 23:43
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Although this article’s title from the Harvard Business Review warns against

… Tell[ing] a Suffering Coworker “It Could Have Been Worse”

... I think your coworker could have gotten away with using it in your example, either by itself or together with either
his/her “Close call [, it could have been worse]”;
@englishdude 's “Nice save [, it could have been worse]”;
“Phew [, it could have been worse!]”;
or even the slightly nonsensical
“Luckily [, it could have been worse].

(“Luckily … .” from this vaguely similar ELU question and “Phew [… !]” from two of its answers)

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Well, if the act of righting the water allowed the spill to be contained before it permanently damaged some other valuable asset, such as electronic equipment or your silk tie or a watercolor you were examining, then "Close call!" is perfectly appropriate. It doesn't imply blame.

"Nice save" contains the same implication that damage was averted, but also can imply that the person the remark was addressed to was responsible for the risk itself, and therefore was duty-bound to be the first to try to avert it or redress it. In other words, to extend the metaphor, they are the goalkeeper, and it was their job to do the saving.

However, "close call" can also relate to a risk posed by anyone or anything, such as a near-miss by a lightning strike, and can be used where no action was taken to avert the damage.

"Nice save" doesn't apply in situations where no action is taken, but can also be used if someone creates a bad situation that is then rescued by someone else. So, for example, if someone trips and you catch them before they hit the ground, anyone may say, "Nice save!" (except you, of course).

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How about good recovery?

From Dictionary.com:

recovery: restoration or return to any former and better state or condition

This would seem to describe accurately your situation.

First, the bottle of water in its upright position represents the "former or better state or condition".

Second, you tipped the bottle over on your desk.

Third, you managed to right the bottle before it spilled out completely. You "restored or returned" the bottle to its upright position -- the "former or better state or condition".

You made a good recovery.

To my mind, good save applies to your situation, but it doesn't capture precisely or require the concept of recovery.

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