With many thanks to a reader who emailed that she disagreed with my article Isn’t It Ironic because I said that by saying you “couldn’t care less,” you actually cared a little bit. The reader sent me a post by my hero Grammar Girl and an entry from Dictionary.com straightening me out. I have since changed the original article, but here is what convinced me I was wrong:
According to Grammar Girl, the phrase “I couldn’t care less” was originally from Britain and came to the US in the 1950s. It means you could not care any less than you do, so you do not care. In the 60s, the phrase “I could care less” appeared in the US. Some would say it was because sloppy or slurring speakers left off the “n’t” part of “couldn’t.” The whole phrase is ironic. If you say you “could care less,” it means you have a little bit of caring left, which is probably not what you mean. If you really REALLY don’t care, you “couldn’t care less.”
I’ve mentioned more than once that I am not an expert and I truly do appreciate when I am corrected (especially with proof of my error) so that I can fix my mistake. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen with every blog post, but it has happened a time or two.
Is there something that you are wondering about or have a burning question you would like an answer to? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do what I can to get an answer for you. In the meantime, I will work to find topics of interest to share and hopefully will be correct in my analysis of research to help others learn. As always, thank you for your support!
This is an example of the fact that headlines (and document headings as well) also need to be proofread. They need to be checked not just for misspellings but also for whether or not they make sense, as in this example. A “homicide victim” would be dead because they were the victim of a homicide. The dictionary definition of “homicide” is “murder,” so I’m pretty sure that victim is not talking. The fact that homicide victims rarely talk to police is inaccurate and doesn’t make sense. I would venture a guess that homicide victims NEVER talk to police.
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.
So many people sent this one to me that I feel compelled to write about it. This headline appeared in the East Oregonian this past weekend. It appears that although it was an Associated Press article, newspapers and other media outlets who reprint AP articles can change the headline to save space, etc. under their contract. So this tells us that the person in charge of laying out the sports pages of Saturday’s East Oregonian doesn’t know the difference between “ambidextrous”–the ability to use either hand as well as the other–and “amphibious”–the ability to work on land or in water. I’m sure lots of people don’t know that difference. The worst part is that the word “ambidextrous” appears in the actual article two words in on the second paragraph–close enough to the top that even I (a non-sports fan) might read that far.
If you have even the slightest question about whether a word is correct, check it out. With online dictionaries a click away, it is inexcusable. This story has spread like wildfire (a search of “amphibious pitcher” brings 158,000 results three days after the initial publication), so the East Oregonian unnamed confused employee has created quite a sensation. And I’m thinking not a very good sensation. Think about your first impression of the East Oregonian newspaper when you started reading this.
I know I would not enjoy being the one responsible for such a “silly mistake.” At least that’s what the East Oregonian editor has to say about it. Silly? Yes. Inexcusable? Maybe. I know we all make mistakes–heaven knows I’ve made more than my fair share (and have stories to prove it!)–but for me, personally, I hold schools and media to a higher standard. LANGUAGE IS YOUR JOB! Of course, it is our job too. Slow down and take the time to get it right.
If you have trouble with vocabulary, start reading! Most newspapers and books go through an editing process designed to make things as error free as possible. The more you read, the more your vocabulary improves. An even better practice is to look up words you don’t understand as you read them. Or sign up for a word of the day on most online dictionary sites and lot of other sites. Just do a Google search for “word of the day” and you will have lots of choices. That is a small thing that could make a big difference. Doing these things on a consistent basis can help you avoid the kind of “silly mistake” that can go viral and put your firm’s name out in the world in a way they hadn’t intended in a manner that is not at all flattering. Take the time your project deserves, concentrate on one project at a time (as much as that is possible), and produce work that is as error free as possible. “Silly mistakes” are for others who don’t work hard to make themselves and their firms look good.
This I found on Google. They may learn something, but I’m not sure I’d trust this software to teach them something correctly.
This is one error that I see a lot on Facebook that irritates me. It seems that the errors are mostly (but certainly not exclusively) made by young people. It is not a difficult concept.
- There means “in that place” as in “He ate at Burger King and parked the car there.”
- Their means “belonging to them” as in “Their car was stolen last night.”
- They’re is a contraction for “they are” as in “They’re having twins!”
I found this on Google and hesitate just a little bit to make it a Grammar Giggle. Obviously English is not their first language, but waitress and waiter are one of those sets of words that already defines gender, like actor and actress, so you shouldn’t add gender and “boy” waitress is just plain confusing. Are they looking for a waitress or a waiter? The other errors in the sign will go unmentioned.
I found this gem on Google. Personally I would appreciate it if you keep your THONGS on your feet or, well, elsewhere and use TONGS, but maybe that’s just me.
A loyal blog reader sent this to me from a Craigslist ad. What is most worrisome about this error is that they used the word “their” correct two other times IN THE SAME SENTENCE! Again, this is something spell check would not catch, so you need to actually read it (and know the difference between there and their). There is a location or at that place (she was sitting there on the blue chair) and their is belonging to them (he loved riding in their Corvette). And just to be complete, they’re is a contraction for they are.
I came across this on a webpage while I was looking for potential speakers for a conference we’re working on.
Here’s the problem (according to the Gregg Reference Manual):
perspective – means to view in correct proportion
prospective – means anticipated
So I’m thinking what they are really looking for are anticipated speakers, not speakers they will view in the correct proportion (wrong on so many levels). I have emailed them about this error so they can fix it. But using it as a teaching moment, I include it here, leaving off the identifying information. My goal is never to embarrass a person or company who has an error in a public place, but to use it to teach you all what is really correct.
This was on a friend’s Facebook page. Even though it is only one letter, there is a huge difference between “comma” and “coma.” Let the punctuation jokes begin.