Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

For what it's worth, I would not classify this as irony (or at least it's hardly a prototypical case). I'm sure the current meaning of "I could care less" is quite thoroughly conventionalized: it's part of everyday speech, and many people do not notice any non-literal effects such as irony -- as evidenced by the prescriptionist videos which feel the need to explain to people the "true" meaning of the expression. Irony may have had a role in the etymology of the expression. All of this is very similar to a dead metaphor.



> I'm sure the current meaning of "I could care less" is quite thoroughly conventionalized: it's part of everyday speech

Only in some places - I can only remember having heard it on television from the US. I shiver in pain every time I hear it, too, so I'm pretty sure I haven't heard it in person (having lived in New Zealand and Australia).


In fairness, I wouldn't offer the pedantry of a prescriptionist who was moved to create a video as evidence that the average person doesn't get the sarcasm of "I could care less". I think it's rather more likely that the average person couldn't care less whether the phrase is literally correct, as long as the listener or reader understands its meaning.


I'm sure most people would see the original non-literal features of the phrase if they were to think about it. The point is, they don't! Not because they're dumb but because the entire expression has unit status in their vocabulary. The fact that people do not notice the original non-literalness in the phrase (and indeed understand it as intended) is evidence that it's not non-literal anymore.

I'm harping on about this because it's such a nice poster child for an entrenched (conventionalized) meaning of an entire expression as opposed to just a word, and for the lack of componentiality of meaning in language. In other words, there's more to the meaning of a sentence than just the meaning of its words. Componentiality is one of the points of debate between different schools of thinking in linguistics.


I suppose I just have a hard time getting too exercised about what is, essentially, a banal artifact of a highly idiomatic language. When I find myself getting bogged down over a particular expression, I step back and ask myself: if person A uses this expression, will person B understand what they mean? Really, this is all that really matters.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: