Uppercase, lowercase

Did you know that the origin of the words uppercase and lowercase dates back to the early days of the printing press?

Individual letters were stored in compartmentalised cases. The more commonly used ‘small’ letters were kept in the lower case, within easy reach of the typesetter. The capitals and accented letters were kept in the upper case – a little further to reach because they weren’t required as often.

Cases of type

Cases of type at Ditchling Museum.

"I could care less" is just wrong

Just a quick note about something that really annoys me from time to time. People who say “I could care less” to mean they don’t care.

I’m not being in any way anti-American, but this grammatical quirk has developed only in American-English, and is not present in British-English. I’m not just saying it’s bad-English; this phrase in particular has exactly the opposite meaning to what is intended.

Let’s assume that I don’t care about something at all. That would mean I care a zero amount about it. I could NOT care any less than zero about it. I couldn’t care less.

On the other hand, if I do care about something, then you could say that I care more than a zero amount about it. If I’m caring more than zero about it, I could care less.

So if you say “I could care less” then that means that you do care. If you mean to say that you don’t care, you need to say “I couldn’t care less”.

That concludes today’s English lesson!

Are there any nonsensical common phrases that you find annoying? Please leave a comment below.

Did you like this post? Then you may also like my new post about the misuse of the word “humble”.

UPDATE (May 2010)

Misplaced helpfulness

richardr has a photo of Broadcasting House on Flickr. His photo is titled “White City”. That would be an easy mistake to make since they’re both BBC buildings, so I left a comment simply saying the photo seemed to be mis-titled White City, rather than Broadcasting House.

I thought I was being helpful. He replied by private message:

Your rudeness
Before you leave patronising comments on other accounts you might care to read the comments trail explaining why a particular title has been chosen.

I’m surprised that he’d consider my comment to be patronising, and slightly offended that he’d title his reply “Your rudeness” and block me on Flickr! Talk about over-reaction! I get comments like “DUNB CUNT GO SUK UR MOMS MILK NOOB” daily on YouTube (that particular gem was left for me yesterday) and I don’t respond at all.

I admit I didn’t read the 350-word essay he’d left in the photo comments, which now that I look explains in depth why the photo is titled as such. But I wouldn’t say it’s uncommon for people not to read huge swathes of text on a photo sharing website.

Oh well, at least he brought the smile of incredulity to my face. And the chance to trump his over-reaction by blogging about it. I dunno, some people!

Of course, I wouldn’t want to encourage you to leave a similar comment as if you’ve just stumbled upon it, explaining that he’s got the title wrong. That would be bad, and not funny at all of course. *snigger* (if you get there and there are no recent comments, that’s because he’s deleting each individually – I know at least three people have commented in the last hour!)

BBC White City Broadcasting House
These photos of White City and Broadcasting House are by Stevec77 and Speedwaystar respectively. richardr’s photo isn’t licenced for me to republish here, unfortunately.