Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Caring Less

My wife and I were having dinner in a restaurant a few weeks ago when I happened to overhear two couples at a nearby table speaking. One person said, in response to another's comment, "Well, I really could care less. Or is it I couldn't care less? I'm never sure." To which the first speaker replied, "Oh, it doesn't matter, they both mean the same thing."

Oh, really? One phrase says "could not" and the other says "could". The word "not" makes the two phrases completely opposite each other. In what world do they mean the same thing? I wanted to go over to that table and smack them all on the head, even the two people who weren't involved in that exchange just to make a point, but I remembered what happened the last time I smacked someone on the head in a restaurant. It wasn't pretty. So I refrained.

The problem is that many of us say things without actually analyzing what the words mean. If you say "I could care less", that means you care to some extent - maybe a little, maybe a lot, but you care -  so it's possible to tone down just how much you care and care less. What you want to say in a case like this, and the proper phrase is, "I couldn't care less", meaning you don't care at all for the subject at hand and it is impossible to care any less about it.

Of course, this made me think about other phrases that I've heard over the years from people who just say things without understanding what's coming out of their pie-holes. Take this as an example, "for all intensive purposes". What the heck does that mean? What they want to say is "for all intents and purposes", but again they don't bother to think about what they are actually saying.

"It's a doggy dog world", is another one I've heard more than once. It certainly sounds a lot friendlier than the correct phrase, "It's a dog-eat-dog world", which of course means people fighting each other to pursue their own goals and makes a lot more sense. It's kind of a shame that it's the correct phrase, though. It'd be nicer if we always patted each other on the back all the time, congratulating or consoling each other when it was appropriate.

Some people would say complaining about something I can't do anything about is a "mute point", but I'd have to smack them too, because it's a "moot point". Unless, of course, the point is unable to speak.

Another thing that annoys me every time I hear it, although it's not in the same category as these phrases, is when someone says the word "height" as if it ended with a "th". It ends with a hard "t" for crying out loud. Just because other words describing dimension, "length" and "width", are pronounced with the ending "th", "height" isn't.

Enough complaining for now. It doesn't impact me in any way if people speak without thinking. Come to think of it, I couldn't care less. Or could I?

I'd be interested to know of any phrase that you hear misspoken often. Add a comment below if you can think of any.