#1 – I Could Care Less
James R. Fitzgerald, acting unit chief in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit-1, had been with the agency for almost twenty years when one of his biggest cases came to an end all because of semantics. All the cunning in the world for entrapment came down to the way a killer formed his words in his writing.
Know who I am talking about? Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber.
Fitzgerald recalled how a transposition of verbs in Kaczynski’s manifesto led to a closer identification in April 1996. He used the phrase “You can’t eat your cake and have it, too,” instead of the usual phrase, “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” Fitzgerald, like most people, thought he had made a mistake. But examinations of other letters by Kaczynski contained a similar feature, which, Mr. Fitzgerald said, “is actually a traditionally middle English way of using the term. He technically had it right and the rest of us had it wrong. It was one of the big clues that allowed us to make the rest of the comparison and submit a report to the judge who signed off on a search warrant.”
I mean, think about it. The phrase should be the way the Unabomber wrote it. It just doesn’t make sense the other way around. Why, of course, one can have their cake and eat it. Isn’t that how it’s done? (Unless someone is stopping you, of course.) But one can’t eat their cake and still make it available. See?
What other phrases are we saying incorrectly? Here are some of the most commonly misused phrases that might have slipped under your radar.
Let’s begin with the #1 most irritating one in my mind.
- I Could Care Less. I wish I could say that I couldn’t care less when you say this phrase, but golly! Saying it this way drives me crazy. If you could care less, then you could care less.
- Hunger pains. That growling is your stomach telling you that it’s bored, not hungry and it is pronounced hunger pangs.
- Escape goat. You’ve got to be kidding Only use this when your goat has escaped your yard. All other times it refers to someone who’s being blamed for another’s wrongdoings and is called a scapegoat. Remember, it’s not the mistake you make that’s important. It’s how you shift the blame.
- Ex-patriot. Tina Turner temporarily used to be one when she first moved to Switzerland to save money on her taxes. Now she is an expatriate because she has been there for decades and no longer has any ties to the U.S.
- Pass Mustard. Need some for your burger or hot dog? I relish the idea to clear this up for you. If something passes muster, it means that something is satisfactory.
- Biting my time. What are you biting to pass the time? Your nails? You should be biding your time by doing something more constructive, maybe. Remember it this way: What was the current President of the United States doing before his inauguration? He was BIDEN his time.
- Piece of Mind. I have a friend who deals with his peace of mind this way. “One day I was born. Then everything bothered me. And that brings us up to date.” He’s at peace with this explanation about how he handles life.
- First-Come, First-Serve. The last thing you’d ever want to hear is “first-come, first-serve.” Trust me. Written this way implies that the first person who arrives at a restaurant or party is also the one who has to serve all the other guests. To avoid this, say “first-come, first-served.”
- Make Due. The only person who can make due is the person who has given an assignment or deadline for a project. The rest of the time is making do. I am making do with this: “All due respect” is a wonderful expression because it doesn’t actually specify how much respect is actually due. Could be none.
Be sure and practice this week with the correct phrases.
Until next time…Lee