When someone says “I could care less” we should understand that that means that they do care. If they could care less than they do right now, that means they actually care—at least a little bit. This led a blog reader to ask about other ironic phrases that are out there. Here are just a few:
- “I felt nauseous all afternoon.” That means that you felt like you were causing someone else to throw up on you. If you feel sick, you feel nauseated not nauseous.
- “The shop was really unique.” Unique means unusual or original and you can’t have degrees of that, so you can just say “The shop was unique.” You wouldn’t say “The shop was a little unique.” or “The shop was a lot unique.” It was unique and that says it all—there is no other shop like it.
- “She literally couldn’t get out of bed this morning.” The term “literally” means actually and without exaggeration. So “She literally couldn’t get out of bed this morning” means that she was tied or weighted down and could not physically get out of bed because something was impeding her rising. There is some argument out there that because “literally” has been used incorrectly for so long, some dictionaries are now adding a definition as “very nearly or virtually.” I still think we should literally go with the original meaning and quit using “literally” in the wrong context.
- “Irregardless of the answer, I’m not doing that.” This is one of my pet peeves. “Irregardless” is not a word. The correct word is “regardless.” “Regardless” already means something isn’t worth a regard (“less” any regard) so adding “ir” doesn’t add anything and would perhaps make it mean that it is not worth not being worth a regard, so it is worth a regard. Regardless, quit using “irregardless.”
- “He perused the driver’s manual before taking the test.” Some will think this means that he skimmed the manual, when in fact “perused” means “to read with thoroughness or care.” So this sentence means that he studied the manual thoroughly.
- “He left the condo in pristine condition.” Pristine does not mean “as good as new,” it means “having its original purity; uncorrupted or unsullied.” So he didn’t leave the condo in its original purity because he actually lived there. I’m sure he left it in a pretty good condition—just not pristine.
- “She was nonplussed by the doctor’s report.” “Nonplussed” does not mean you are not worried. It means that you are in a state of utter perplexity, so the sentence “She was nonplussed by the doctor’s report” means that she was confused or didn’t understand the report, not that she was not worried about it.
- “She was bemused by the jokes being told by her kids.” Actually, this could be correct depending on the definition the reader believes. The correct definition is not “mildly amused,” but is, in fact, “bewildered or confused.” So if she was confused by her kids’ jokes, she was “bemused,” but if she thought they were funny, she was not “bemused,” but was “amused.”
- “There was a plethora of options in her new car.” Plethora means an overabundance or excess. It does not mean a lot of something as most people believe. So there were not an excess of options in her new car, but there were a lot of options.
- “There were a myriad of choices for dinner.” No, there were a lot of choices, but “myriad” means “a very great or indefinitely great number of persons or things” or “of an indefinitely great number; innumerable” so “There were myriad people in Kansas City to celebrate the Royals’ World Series victory” not “a myriad of people,” just “myriad [‘a very great number or indefinitely great number of’] people.”
- “It was ironic that the office was closed on Thanksgiving Day.” No, it’s not. It is expected that the office would be closed on Thanksgiving Day. The term “ironic” means an outcome that is the opposite of what you would expect. However, “It was ironic that she was seated between her ex-husband and her ex-mother-in-law at the rehearsal dinner” is ironic. It is not something you would expect. And certainly not something you would expect from a good hostess.
The biggest lesson here is to learn constantly, read constantly, and be willing to revise what you believe if you learn that it is incorrect.