Posted by metaphorical on 20 December 2006
My cousin writes:
Much has been made lately of the transformation from “I couldn’t care less” to “I could care less”.
I take no issue with this because, just as the brain rights the upside-down world perceived by the eyes, it rights the illogic of the new phrase by adding a silent “NOT!” Voila. Kol ba seder (Hebrew: everything’s in order), or copacetic.
[My brother] observed years ago that it’s something special to be heels over head for somebody, but head over heels? Hell, except in bed or on the trapeze, we’re always head over heels.
But now I’m onto “there’s no love lost between them”. Shouldn’t that be “there’s no love found between them”? Or, too look at the contrapositive, “there’s no love lost” means “there is love found”.
“I could care less” has always bothered the hell out of me, though I agree that there’s an implicit “not” or “but” that makes it sort of okay (“… but first I’d have to care at all”).
“Head over heels” doesn’t bother me too much, maybe because it still conveys the image of tumbling. Now that I think about it though, it should bother me a lot more than it does.
“No love lost” doesn’t bother me at all. It’s the same as “no love to be found.”
The problem with these phrases, each of them, is that they’re meaningless. Orwell, in his essay, “Politics and the English Language,” has this to say:
DYING METAPHORS. A newly-invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically “dead” (e.g., iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: ring the changes on, take up the cudgels for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, an axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a “rift,” for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would be aware of this, and would avoid perverting the original phrase.
I’ve previously quoted Orwell’s rule #1, of the six rules that conclude the essay, is:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
The main point, then, is that we should simply jettison all three phrases, rid them from our lives, cast them adrift on the sea of words.