Do you know what it's like to get a song "stuck" in your head? You hear it 24/7 until, for some unknown reason, it disappears as quickly as it appeared. This happens to me quite frequently when I get up in the middle of the night to visit the bathroom. Most of the time it's a song that I know and recognize.
Just about the same thing happens when I hear a familiar bit of what I consider to be errant speech. Take for instance a misused phrase about which I'm hyper-sensitive. What is this bit of language that is almost universally misused? Here goes. When the speaker is trying to make a point of how little he cares about a situation, he or she, often says "I could care less." By using this phrase, you are actually leaving the door open to caring even less than you currently do. What you really should say is "I couldn't care less." Now, before you get all in a wad thinking I'm wrong, Merriam-Webster is not on my side. Here's what they had to say:
We define could care less and couldn’t care less on the same page, with the single definition “used to indicate that one is not at all concerned about or interested in something.” We do not put these seemingly disparate idioms on the same page in order to save space, or so that we might cause you pain. We do it because one is simply a variant of the other, and they are used in a synonymous manner.
I must admit that to my semi-trained ear, saying "I couldn't care less" almost sounds like a double negative.
What do you think? Start listening carefully to people's speech and see how often you hear these two ways of calculating the amount of caring they have for something.
Another interesting usage question arose years ago when I was editing reporters' news copy.
I had a few regular "red ink" words and phrases I insisted were to be changed to make the copy more "ear worthy."
People love to write and say the phrase "whether or not." I would usually eliminate the "or not" because it is implied by using the word "whether." For instance, if a reporter wrote, "The governor didn't say whether or not she would favor the bill"... I would simply remove the words "or not." That saves two words and you've said the same thing!
Other of my favorite copy edits are probably, if not purely, personal. I was known for exchanging the word "over" for the slightly lengthier "more than."
I contended to the reporter that generally "above" means "over." For instance "He was over six-feet tall," would become "He was more than six-feet tall."
If you are a regular in our weekly conversations, you know I would go nuts when reporters wrote "The refugees sought shelter in a safe haven." Dictionary.com's definition of haven as:
"Any place of shelter and safety; refuge; asylum." So, "safe haven" should be considered redundant and using "haven" by itself is just fine. Check how many TV networks make this "safe haven" mistake on a regular basis.
And before we call an end to today's conversation, a few other common mistakes we all make from time to time, compliments of Inc.com.
"First-come, first-serve." What's wrong? The last word should be "served."
"Sneak peak." Wrong. A peak is a mountain top. A quick look is a "peek."
"Deep-seeded." Again, wrong. It should be "deep-seated," which indicates that something is firmly established.
"Extract Revenge." Extract is not the word you want unless you're referring to pulling a tooth or the like. "Exact revenge" means to take revenge.
"Wet your appetite." Nope. This has nothing to do with wetting one's mouth before eating. The correct word is "whet" which means to sharpen or stimulate.
I hope you've gotten a big kick of these ways to improve your logophilistic skills. I have. Until next time.