Grammar Wednesday

I don’t have much for you today, class. It’s the end of the term here at TCC, and I’m busy getting grades caught up and writing evaluations for my students’ final presentations. If it weren’t for California Teacher Guy, you’d be getting a lame repeat of comma rules. Go tell him “thank you.”

CTG sent me a note the other day that read:

Try this on your Grammar Wednesday sometime, my dear: “I could care less.”
Truly yours,

Arrgh, indeed! This falls under the “think about what you’re REALLY saying here” category.

If you could care less, then that means that you do care, at least a little. Of course, that’s not what people mean to say when they say that: they mean to say that they just don’t give a crap, so they should just add the contraction “n’t” and start saying what they really mean.

I usually freak people out by saying something to the effect of “I could care less, but it’s just not worth the effort it would take.” It’s funny to see their gears grind on that one.

Happy Wednesday, Everyone!



Filed under General Griping, Grammar

27 responses to “Grammar Wednesday

  1. Leah

    Thanks for this one! That drives me up the wall! My radio station recently went through a ton of cliche type sayings that people can’t get right. Apparently, some people play it by year, while others get so upset that they throw a monkey in the wrench, and still others want you to know something for all intensive purposes.

    I can’t remember all of them, but it was funny to see such a lack of common sense and absolute disregard for one’s own native tongue to not even question things they say every day!

  2. Wow, I was gonna email this one to you this morning! I was listening to a podiobook yesterday and heard this atrocious phrase, in a published work, no less!

    Thanks for this one.

  3. I love that one. My other favorite : flaunting the rules.

  4. mrschili said:
    “they mean to say that they just don’t give a crap, so they should just drop the contraction “n’t” and start saying what they really mean.”

    I’m confused, because they already have dropped the “n’t”!

    The OED lists “I couldn’t care less” as a US colloquial phrase, fwiw. Stephen Pinker tried to defend it as sarcastic:

    I love “could/couldn’t care less” because it’s an example of a sentence where the presence or absence of negation doesn’t change the meaning. Here are some more (

    Eddie knows squat about phrenology.
    Eddie doesn’t know squat about phrenology.

    That’ll teach you not to tease the alligators.
    That’ll teach you to tease the alligators.

    I wonder whether we can’t find some time to shoot pool this evening.
    I wonder whether we can find some time to shoot pool this evening.

    You shouldn’t play with the alligators, I don’t think.
    You shouldn’t play with the alligators, I think.

  5. Yeah, John; I was driving home from work thinking about the post when I realized that I’d written it wrong. I’ve corrected it…

  6. and I also wrote mine wrong… I should have written

    The OED lists “I could care less” as a US colloquial phrase, fwiw.

  7. Leah, “all intensive purposes”! That’s GREAT! I should have put out a call for this kind of stuff – the only one I could think of at 7:30 in the morning was the one that CTG gave me earlier this week…

  8. But John, these statements DO rely on the negation to make sense, don’t they?

    If you take these sentences:

    You shouldn’t play with the alligators, I don’t think.
    You shouldn’t play with the alligators, I think.

    and move the afterthought to the front of the statements, they say this:

    I don’t think you shouldn’t play with the alligators.
    I think you shouldn’t play with the alligators.

    The first construction says that you SHOULD play with the alligators (I’m having a flashback of my grandfather advising us grandkids to go and play in traffic) and the other says that you SHOULDN’T play with them. These are very different in meaning: am I misunderstanding your point, John?

  9. You might be right about your examples. But they are not the same as my examples.

    I’m talking about a certain set of sentences where the negation doesn’t seem to matter. If you take the 2 sentences as I presented them, would you agree that they mean the same thing?

    I know/don’t know squat about semantics, so I can’t explain what’s going on, but I do think it’s cool.

  10. i have one for you – “different from” vs. “different than”

    i can generally pick out which one is correct in context, but what are the actual rules? i consider myself quite the grammar guru around my colleagues, so not knowing how to concisely break down the rules of grammar bothers me. 😛

  11. Both are standard, “different from” is more common, “different than” is more frequent when a clause follows in US English.

    The dislike of “different than” might be because some people think “than” is only a conjunction – so for instance “Apples are different than bananas” would be considered incorrect because “than” should be a preposition. But in fact “than” is both a preposition and a conjunction, so there is no problem here, as far as I can see.

  12. John’s right, though I think I might be a descriptivist (if I’m understanding the term properly) in saying that “different from” just sounds better and, therefore, is better.

  13. I don’t think so, actually… AIUI, descriptivism is about describing the facts. So the first paragraph of my last post is descriptive.

    I don’t think expressing your opinion is either descriptive or prescriptive. But if you said “I like ‘different from’, therefore everyone should use it” – that’s prescriptive.

  14. Oh – okay. I’m still feeling my way around these terms…thanks for the clarification.

    SO, if descriptivism is just describing how something IS, how, exactly, does something get to BE? My instinct tells me that it has to do with a critical mass of use, and that the use reaches that critical mass because enough people think that it’s more “right.” Am I on to something, or chasing my own tail?

  15. When I was reading this I was thinking of that part of The Language Instinct that the Language Log post quotes, which is good, it means I don’t have to get my copy and re-type the section out. The crucial part is that the intonation of I could care less differs from I couldn’t care less. The stress in the former is on care while in the latter it is on couldn’t. If I could care less was to be taken literally, as opposed to sarcastically, it’d be I could care less.

    As far as different than/from goes, I’d have to weigh in and say that different is one of those weird predicates that takes a complement inside a prepositional phrase just because otherwise the object would be too close to the predicate, rather than there being any real meaning conveyed by the preposition, like in true intransitives.

    So, a true intransitive, like run (ignoring run a race), differs in meaning depending on the preposition that heads the complement. Run to the house is therefore different from run from the house. But predicates like ‘different’, ‘dependent’, ‘consist’, ‘with regard’, do not rely on the preposition to convey the correct meaning, but they still require one. You can’t say that dog is different this dog. As a result of the mere token requirement of a preposition, it matters less which preposition you pick.

    With regard for/to/?of

    consisting in/of

    If you’ve ever tried learning French, Italian, Spanish etc., you might recall the difficulty in memorising which prepositions go with which predicates. I had to remember that you say dependere da as opposed to dependere su which is what I would have expected if I’d translated straight from English.

    I still sometimes have to ask is something comprised of or comprised by?

  16. bowyer

    I would have to disagree with the statement that “different from sounds better”. I think “different than” sounds more correct, especially considering “than” is specifically about comparison. “From” sounds better probably because it is commonly used and therefore we are more comfortable with it.

    My favorite idiotic usage is a response that I believe is common primarily in New England, “So didn’t I.”

    “You saw Spiderman 3? So didn’t I.” (So did not I?) What the hell does that mean!?!

  17. mrschili, it looks like you are asking why language changes, which is quite a complex question. I’ll see what I can find, but for now:

  18. wow, there’s a whole lot of conversation that happens ’round these parts. i’m going to have to start hanging out here more often… 🙂

  19. It’s VERY exciting around here, Lara! Welcome to the party!

  20. Leah

    How about a Grammar Wednesday on proper plurals and possessives with multiple word phrases, such as sisters in law as plural, but sister in law’s as possessive.

    This drove me a little crazy last night watching the college softball world series, where an announcer said rbi’s (excuse the apostrophe, don’t know else how to indicate that). RBI is runs batted in. The R in the acronym is already plural, so saying rbi’s is saying runs batted ins, and we all know that in can’t be plural. Drives me batty, excuse the pun.

  21. Oh, LEAH! Don’t EVEN get me STARTED with the frickin’ baseball!!

    “In Manny’s last three at bats, he walked, hit a ground-rule double and flied out to left.”

    I’m sorry? FLIED?! That’s NOT A WORD and it makes me cringe – visably cringe, to the point where my husband it telling me to get over it, already – every time!

    People in baseball make shit up all the time, and this is a correct word in baseball, but STILL!!

  22. Oh, do I have to wait for next week to have my say on plural suffixes versus possessive clitics?

  23. I say RsBI and it drives guys nuts. Rrrowr!

  24. I hope I’m remembering this right…

    “flied” makes sense as a zero-derived verb. The noun is “fly” meaning “a fly ball”. This has shifted lexical categories and become a verb: “to fly” meaning “to hit a fly ball”.

    When nouns shift to verbs, they usually add no suffix, which is what happened with “contact”, “elbow”, “interview”, “date”. In other words, the pronounciation does not change. This is called zero derivation. An invisible “zero” morpheme has been added to the word to indicate its change of lexical category. So the verb “fly” might look like this:
    fly(N) + 0(V)

    Verbs formed by zero derivation tend to be inflected regularly.

    You could look at the morphology of “flew” as:
    fly(V) + ed = flew
    because the verb “fly” is irregular: the past tense morpheme “-ed” is not realized, and instead the verb changes form.

    But the morphology of “flied” is
    fly(N) + 0(V) + ed = flied
    The 0 is a zero morpheme that is added when the noun “fly” shifted from noun to verb. So the past tense morpheme “-ed” cannot be attached directly to “fly” – if is was, the result would be “flew”. But there is a zero morpheme in the way, so the result is “flied”.

    For a similar reason, we call the hockey team the Maple Leafs instead of the “Maple Leaves”, and we pluralize “walkman” as “walkmans” instead of “walkmen”.

  25. We also say highlighted, not highlit; breakfasted not brokefast, etc.

    While it is true for the construction of plurals that the -s goes on the noun in the phrase, rules are out the window when it comes to acronyms, and even tightly bound phrases. RBI, whatever it stands for (never watched an entire game of Baseball in my life, we have Cricket in this country), is taken as a single unit, rather than as standing in for a phrase; it has been lexicalised. That means that for all intents and purposes as far as inflectional morphology goes, RBI is a noun and gets the normal -s plural marker.

    As for possessive ‘s, well, this is a little different. While the plural -s is a suffix, the possessive ‘s is a ‘clitic’, meaning it is affixed not to a word, but to a phrase. So in an example like “The Queen of England’s crown”, the ‘s is attaching to the entire phrase “the Queen of England”. This didn’t used to be the case though, back in middle English (or earlier). One would have to say “The Queen’s of England crown”, just as we normally apply the plural marker today. This unfortunately causes ambiguity in some cases, such as in the brother of my wife’s friend. Is it the brother of my wife or her friend?

  26. bowyer

    RBI came to the forefront about 3 years ago in the world of sports journalism. In general, if you pay attention to this stuff, you will find that the better electronic media types (radio announcers and ESPN style talking heads) now simply state that “X player had 4 RBI last night”. It is assumed that R (Run) is plural within the acronym due to the context of the numeral preceding it. RBIs is no longer in common use among the more well educated sports nuts.

  27. Pingback: Grammar Wednesday « A Teacher’s Education

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