Today’s SOTD is one that was pointed out to me by Larry Horn. I was talking with him about the There’s no VERBing this construction, which has an “ability” meaning like One is not able to VERB this. He mentioned that one test for “ability” semantics is whether the verb fathom can be used. For example, you can say I can’t fathom this but it is unacceptable to say *I didn’t fathom this when I was a kid.
By my judgment (and his), fathom is possible in the There’s no VERBing this construction. We both searched Google for attested examples of There’s no fathoming X and found many. Larry’s favorite, and I’m inclined to agree, is:
Though they seem independent, aloof and unpredictable, cats are creatures of habit. And yet, there’s no fathoming a cat. Why would one choose a small, cramped box, sink or cubbyhole over a more open space with all its possibilities? (source)
I’ll (somewhat reluctantly) admit that this isn’t the most natural instance of There’s no fathoming X that I found. But there is just something so wonderfully amusing about this example that I couldn’t help myself. Thanks Larry!