I have spent much of the last 24 hours watching dozens of episodes of David Mitchell’s SoapBox, a video-cast he did for a few years where he rants about minor issues—often hilariously. It made me realize that as much as I think that Robert Webb is brilliant, David Mitchell is why I am such a big fan of That Mitchell and Webb Look. In fact, I think I must have a man-crush on Mitchell. And I say that without knowing what a “man-crush” is, but if it isn’t what I’m feeling, I can’t imagine the term has much meaning other than that I’ve turned gay. I am not, as far as I know, turning gay. And if I were, I’m absolutely sure it would not be over Mitchell who looks kind of like me—short and dumpy.
On the other hand, I have no illusions that in point of fact, David Mitchell and I would hate each other. We would end up in that uncomfortable hole where another person is enough like you to find them annoying but too different to find them charming. Plus, two guilt ridden shy people never get along. And most of all: two middle aged pedants should never be within shouting distance of one another.
A good example of the potential problem when two pedants meet is found in, “Dear America…” The first half of this video deals with one of the pedant’s favorite issues: the difference between “I couldn’t care less” and “I could care less.” It’s still quite funny, so have a look:
This is where pedants collide. Because David Mitchell just failed as a pedant. Originally, the phrase was indeed, “I couldn’t care less.” We all know this, so there is no need to watch Mitchell sitting on a graph to illustrate the point. Taken literally, “I could care less” means that what the speaker is talking about is something that is not the most worthless thing in the world. And that is never what the speaker actually means.
I haven’t look into the history of it, but I do remember when I was a kid, people were being sarcastic (with the typical kid’s sarcastic voice) when they said, “I could care less!” In other words, “I couldn’t care less.” Over time, the explicit sarcasm left but the meaning remained the same. Throughout the English language there are similar phase. For example, no one complains about the phrase “big baby,” because it isn’t used to describe large infants.
Now I understand: most people who use the phrase don’t know this. They’ve never thought about it. And children can be forgiven for being confused after working out the exact meaning. But adults can’t! No one is confused about what people mean when they use the phrase. When asked about his feelings about his baby, a new father would never try to minimize his feelings by saying, “I could care less!” And that’s because everyone who uses “I could care less,” whether knowingly or not, means “I couldn’t care less.”
This is an issue for me because I remember being a kid and working this out. And so for a couple of years, I was a typical precocious jerk, correcting everyone who misused the phrase. And given that it was America, that was just about everyone. Now I look back on that with great embarrassment. It’s an example of having a little knowledge and thinking you have it all. I didn’t. Neither does David Mitchell.
On the second issue of the video, I agree with him. It is “Hold the fort.” But I quite like the idea that the fort might blow away. It’s magical. So I’m thinking that maybe I’ll start using the phrase, “Hold down the fort.” This, of course, would go along with one of the great pedant traditions: saying things just to piss off other pedants. And that’s why I have a man-crush on David Mitchell, yet would never like to meet him.
Update (22 April 2014 8:19 pm)
This is a good example of why I so love David Mitchell. I have spent my whole life keeping mental track of money that I owe to friends because of this kind of casual attitude to gifts. They may not realize it, but I feel terrible while I’m on the owing side of that. And it’s awful.
The whole thing reminds me of a That Mitchell and Webb Look skit about the “All Party Committee to Combat Social Misunderstandings.” I really do worry a lot about whether to flush the toilet in the middle of the night when I’m a guest at someone else’s home. I really don’t need all this extra anxiety!