John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Things not to give a fig for

Not to care a fig, according to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, refers to the fruit as “something of little or no value.” Or perhaps it suggests the Spanish fico, which was the popular term in Shakespeare’s time “for an obscene gesture of contempt made by thrusting the thumb (representing the male sex organ) between the first and second fingers (representing the female).” Choose the sense you prefer.

Item: Archie is marrying Veronica

I’m sorry, but does anyone born since the Truman administration care? And aren’t those two collecting Social Security by now and living in a facility that prepares food that does not require chewing?

Item: The Scripps National Spelling Bee

Somehow it does not surprise that our national competition celebrating literacy is devoted to rote memorization rather than reading or thinking.

Item: Jon and Kate’s marriage is in trouble

A couple with eight children who have allowed themselves to be presented to the public in a reality TV show are starting to show some strain. Who’d’a thunk?

Item: Chris Brown is in trouble again

Don’t know his music, don’t care to know it. Didn’t watch his YouTube defense of the accusation the he beat up his girlfriend. Not edified by his latest contretemps. The world of celebrity news coverage appears to consist largely of annoying people who just won’t go away.

Item: Fox News

Comment would be superfluous.


Readers: For your part: Suggestions would be welcome on (a) expressions comparable to not give a fig for or (b) additional items not to give a fig for.

12 comments:

  1. Would you say that folks who do not believe in the Laws of Motion don't give a fig for Newton?

    ReplyDelete
  2. "I don't give a hoot in Hell"; "I don't give a flying f***"; "I could [sic] care less"; "Do I look like somebody who cares?"; "What is this X of which you speak?"

    ReplyDelete
  3. I don't care a fig about property virgins and others who are house shopping on the Home and Garden channel. I don't understand why I would care about people who say things like, "Wow, the asking price is only $450,000? That's within our price range!" Or, "I love the kitchen but it needs some serious updating because the cabinets are the wrong color." I'd rather watch the NBA playoffs.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I suppose this is more revealing about me than about the history of English colloquialisms, but I'd always assumed "I don't care a fig" was some hoity-toity derivation from "I don't give a f**k". Or perhaps that the inverse was true. I guess it's just a humorous example of what biologists would call convergent evolution, though. (What's the linguist's comparable term?)

    ReplyDelete
  5. (a) Frankly, Scarlett ...

    ReplyDelete
  6. I don't "give a rat's ass" for Jon and Kate either, nor Chris Brown. Nor all the problems of Angelia and Brad, Jennifer Aniston or whatever kicks the tabloids get on (do they have copy editors?)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Of course the tabloids have copy editors -- who else would write the headlines? (I've heard the pay's actually quite good, but that was a few years ago...)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Well, I would have to put Britney Spears on the list of people I don't give a fig about.

    As for Archie and Veronica, I remember reading them when I was about 6 years old. Archie's a bigger dumb*** than I gave him credit for then. Even when I was little, I could tell that there was very little difference between Betty and Veronica. They were the same cartoon character with different hair color. The only real difference was their personality and what shaped it -- Veronica was a spoiled heiress and Betty was the girl next door.

    I'd take the girl next door any time. She didn't seem to require as much maintenance.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I don't know about the spelling bee being non-fig-worthy. While it's true that there's memorization involved, there's also a fair amount of rule knowledge and application (like knowing how a certain sound functions given a particular country of origin).

    Everything else can go jump off a bridge, but this seems like something that might be worth of praise as opposed to scorn.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I don't give a fig what Rush or Sean Hannity has to say. And for that matter creepy Dick Chaney. But I do think Kate with eight is kind of cute.

    ReplyDelete
  11. As a former National Spelling Bee contestant, I'm with steegness. Bemused though I am that it's nationally televised now, complete with commentators speaking in hushed tones, my participation was a great experience. The mental work did me good, perhaps prefiguring my career as an editor. The week in a proper hotel and elegant restaurants--at the sponsoring newspaper's expense--did me better.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I don't give a rip for most anything that shows up as celebrity news. Or maybe I do give something...it makes me rather sad and angry. Is that giving something?

    I don't give a flying flip (is that just regional, or has anyone else heard it?) about repetitive sports commentary.

    Fox News=oxymoron?

    ReplyDelete