If you're a regular reader of this blog, you're probably familiar with my deep appreciation of the English language. I love spelling eccentricities, obscure definitions, palindromes (although it's always bothered me that the word 'palindrome' is not one), crossword puzzles... things like that. I spend way too much time on this crap.
One phrase has always baffled me, though.
"I could care less."
We all know that when someone says "I could care less", they actually mean that they could NOT care less. It's not as if the rest of us are confused by that. But why aren't we? It's not said sarcastically, so as to obviously infer that the opposite is true (like when I see a picture of Paris Hilton on the internet and mumble that she "just seems so nice"). I can't imagine how English as a Second Language teachers deal with such a ridiculous phrase morph. "I know it seems crazy, class, but both 'I could care less' and 'I couldn't care less' should be taken to mean 'I could NOT care less'." Why aren't students revolting? Why have any rules at all if people are just going to talk backwards and opposite and in nonsensical code?
Can you think of any other ridiculous phrase morphs that should be brought to my attention?
Speaking of English as a second language, my Columbian friend Maria (who I met in India earlier this year) once asked me to explain 'I was' vs. 'I were'. As in: "If I was/were planning on swimming, I would have brought my bikini." Maria's English is quite good, but I knew that the term "subjunctive" would be lost on her, so I tried to explain it in layman's terms. It went a little something like this:
"Well, this is a tricky one. See, it's kind of like something that's true versus something that's not true. Like, if you were to say 'If I were a lion.' You're not a lion and you're never going to be a lion, so you say 'were.' It's just what you do. So it's like something that isn't true. But if you were late, you'd say 'I was late.' Because you were late, and you know it and everybody else knows it. You know?"
I think it's because of teachers like me that English grammar rules often go unobserved. A lion? Poor Maria.