When I was a seven-year-old child, I spent a few days home from school, confined to a sick bed. We were living in my grandmother’s house at the time, and she watched over me while my mom did some grocery shopping. Upon returning home, Mom gifted me with a surprise—a book. My delight was complete. Even at that age, I loved books and reading, and will never forget the joy my mom brought me that day.
My seventh grade English teacher, Miss D—an old-school teacher who never married but found purpose in encouraging her charges—further instilled a love of the English language as she endeavored to instill the rules of grammar into an unruly class of twelve- and thirteen-year-old students. Her passion and praise will always retain a special place in my memories. And, though I never aspired to write, I went on to get a degree in Performing Arts and English Ed due to Miss D’s influence.
Years passed, I married, raised a family, and eventually retired. I never did teach but ended up working in business and using only portions of what I had learned. Through it all, I retained my love of reading and a smattering of grammar. The remnants of English grammar I still retain from Miss D and others who took the time to teach me rise in protest and send shivers up my spine at some of what I read today.
Perhaps by now you are wondering where I am heading with this post. Well, to give you fair warning, I am about to climb on my soapbox and whine. Yes. I am using this platform to point out a few of the blunders I’ve read that have raised my hackles. Give me a few moments here and I promise I’ll keep it brief.
Today, I’d like to start with a phrase rather than an actual grammatical blunder. Have you heard the phrase, “I could care less?” Most likely, you have heard it, or even used it yourself. I have heard it said and read it in print. In truth, it is a meaningless bit of nonsense. If you could care less, it means you do care, at least somewhat. The sticking point the phrase needs to make, is that the speaker has no care. Zip. Nada. Zilch.
To express this total lack of care, the phrase should read, “I couldn’t care less.” Ah! Now that has some bite to it. It tells others that the amount of care you have is so little, caring less would be impossible. So, if I want to show this attitude in a scene I am writing, I might express it with words like, “Whatever. I couldn’t care less. If you don’t agree with me that the earth is flat, then your opinion is worthless.” Do you see how it flows, how it rolls off the tongue? Delightful and meaningful.
Go ahead. Don’t be afraid. Say it aloud both ways. First say, “I could care less.” Feel how it staggers off the tongue with an awkward kind of stop in the middle, as if something is missing. Now, with attitude, shake your head and say, “I couldn’t care less!” That’s it! Now you’ve got it. Enjoy it. Use it. But use it with care, words can bite and sting. For example: A child takes a tumble, scrapes a knee, then comes running to you crying. Please don’t hold up your hand, palm facing outward, and say, “I couldn’t care less.” That would just be mean.
Stay tuned for my next post, For the Love of Words Part 2, August 6. I plan to discuss a few grammar bloopers that bug the heck out of me. And please feel free to share in the comments any gaffes that set your hackles to rising. (Keep it to English or writing issues only. No politics, please.)