Caring Less is Still Caring

English is a living language, meaning that it’s always changing, always evolving. Unless you want to live in constant pedantic frustration, you have to be willing to accept new words or phrases that didn’t exist at all in the near past or, a bit harder, words or phrases that originally meant one thing but have now come to mean something else because of common misuse or a general misunderstanding. Think of decimate, which technically means the destruction of around ten percent of something but is commonly used to imply complete and total devastation. Or irregardless, which actually isn’t a word at all but one that many people employ instead of the correct regardless.

I consider myself open to change, and I can roll with the punches with a barely perceptible wince. However, one phrase that is commonly misused grates on my nerves every single time I hear it spoken or read it in a book to the point of jolting me from the conversation or story. I’m talking, of course, about the dreaded “I could care less.” The phrase is correctly, “I couldn’t care less.” My problem with this wrong phrase is that in using it, the speaker is saying the exact opposite of what he or she actually means.

I’ll let Dave Mitchell explain it – his version is much more entertaining and done in a delightful British accent.

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So, what commonly misused phrases or words cause you to shudder every time you hear them?

- Jenna Harper

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14 Responses to “Caring Less is Still Caring”

  1. Caz says:

    Thank you for this post! Like you, I accept that language is a living thing and constantly evolving, but there are some things that have been creeping in that have nothing to do with evolution, but are simply WRONG that make me grind my teeth and want to throw things!

    “I could/couldn’t care less” is one of them. Then there’s “gotten” – which should be “got”. I just read the following in a book: “I saw you hung” – NO – it’s not “hung” it’s “hanged”. Sure, “he hung up his coat” is fine, but in the context of an execution, “hung” is incorrect. There are others of that ilk creeping in, too, but if I listed them all, I’d be here all day!

    My biggest peeves are:

    The misuse of collective nouns. “The government are…” “The group are…”

    NO. “Government” and “Group” are SINGLE nouns, so it should be “The government/group IS”.

    The strange metamorphosis of some nouns into verbs. I’ve heard things like “he medalled” instead of “he won a medal” – things like that.

    And – here I’m going risk getting shot down in flames, but it really bugs me when I hear ; “You’ve got that, don’t you?” – because the verb is “have” not “do”. “You HAVE that, haven’t you?” is what it should be, and is generally what you’d hear in the UK.

    I’d better stop now. As is probably obvious from this, I’m a bit of a grammar nazi and I do take language rather seriously.

    I’ll be in the corner, cowering…

    • Jenna says:

      I’m with you on all of these, Caz.

      One question I always ask about the word “data” – is it singular or plural? For example, I see/hear the sentence “the data are not showing us what we expected” and it doesn’t seem correct. “The data is not showing us what we expected” sounds correct but is it?

      I think the got/gotten thing might be a UK/USA English difference. In the USA, it’s not unusual for someone to say “She had gotten caught stealing a cookie” while I would guess that is “She had got caught stealing cookie” in the UK. I agree the UK way sounds more elegant!

      • Caz says:

        Tee beat me to it, but yes, technically, data is the plural of datum; just as stadia is the plural of stadium and fora is the plural of forum. The trouble I have nowadays is wondering whether, if I use the correct form, anyone will understand me! Or if they’ll think I’ve made a mistake!

        I think got/gotten is definitely a transatlantic thing. I read mostly european historicals and when those sorts of ‘errors in translation’ occur, it’s really obvious, probably moreso than in contemporaries. It’s not just the obvious things like “fall” and “sidewalk” etc – but phraseology that we just don’t use over here. I recently proof-read an HR for someone and we had lots of intense debate about the use (or not) of the pluperfect tense. I remember having similar conversations with US friends about it as well, in that it doesn’t seem to be widely used. I found it really hard to stop pointing out the instances where I would have used the pluperfect, because using the simple past tense just didn’t sound right.

        • Blythe says:

          yep – “You’ve got that” is correct on this side of the pond. I had to google to find out what Brits say for sidewalk. I had no idea it was different. I’ve probably been reading books for years where I thought people were walking on the road in England because they were on the pavement.

          • Caz says:

            Oh, I could give you a list :)

            We don’t get in the tub, we get in the bath; we have taps not fawcets; elevators are lifts; I assume a nightstand is what we would call a bedside table; a kitchen “counter” is a worktop; jelly is jam; jell-O is jelly… muffins are flat, you cut them in half and toast them; cupcakes are fairy cakes (yes, really!) – and that’s just off the top of my head!

            I can’t help it, and I’m probably in a minority, but reading”fall” and “sidewalk” in a novel set in 19th Century England makes me want to tear my hair out!!

          • Caz says:

            Oh, I forgot to say that my author friend thinks I should write an American –> English dictionary for US-based writers and publishers of Historical Romance ;-)

  2. Jenna says:

    Looks like the link to the YouTube video with David Mitchell is missing. It’s here for anyone who wants to check it out: http://youtu.be/om7O0MFkmpw

  3. Tee says:

    Jenna:
    One question I always ask about the word “data” – is it singular or plural? For example, I see/hear the sentence “the data are not showing us what we expected” and it doesn’t seem correct. “The data is not showing us what we expected” sounds correct but is it?

    You posed such an interesting question on data that I had to look it up. Of course, I personally treated it as a singular collective noun and used a singular verb with it. But I enjoyed hearing the history of this word.

    Datum originally was the singular version and data was the plural for it. But as language evolved, data became the only word to use and most people treat it singularly (even though, officially, it’s the plural form).

    Just as with agenda, which we use in the singular mode, it really is the original plural form. Agendum was the singular, which apparently was dropped. But presently we never say the agenda are. We say the agenda is.

    So, in spite of some insisting that data be combined with a plural verb, in reality, in present times, it should be used with a singular verb (which IMO sounds the best anyway).

  4. chris booklover says:

    One of my pet peeves is the confusion between “disinterested” and “uninterested.” People often use the former term when they mean the latter, but the two terms refer to very different concepts of “interest.”

    • Jenna says:

      One word my mother-in-law often uses that sets my teeth on edge is “orientated” instead of “oriented”. As in, “that young man is orientated toward engineering instead of literature for his college major”. I know orientate is a real word, but not used in this context.

  5. LeeB. says:

    I’ve heard the word conversated on tv. Really?!?!

  6. Mark says:

    A pet peeve of mine that I’ve mentioned before is “the exception that proves the rule”. People quote this as if prove had the modern meaning of confirm. The phrase is only meaningful when you think of the older meaning of prove: test. Exceptions TEST rules (often DISproving them).

    • Jenna says:

      Yeah, that doesn’t make sense. An exception would prove that the rule is false. Unless the rule is that there is no absolute and exceptions are the norm.