I had a discussion on Easter Sunday with my niece Hope about something that’s been apparently annoying her for a goodly while. The eldest of my nine nieces and nephews, Hope is the environmentally-conscious one. Starting back when she was but a wee lass, she had such an affinity for the living creatures of the earth and for Mother Earth herself that she resolved to save every last critter and to cleanse the third rock from the sun that they call home. As an adolescent, she spoke frequently about majoring in Environmental Science in college, but, when the time came, she decided that she didn’t want to spend her life in a laboratory. So, after a stellar university sojourn, she took her principles, passion and compassion into the teaching profession. There, she has spent the past fifteen or so years imparting her knowledge and enthusiasm to a couple generations of grateful kids.
So, I was a little surprised that her concern centered not on our Mother Earth and her incredible creatures but instead on my own area of concern and expertise: the care and feeding of our Mother Tongue and all her wondrous words. She showed me her iphone (more properly myphone) and in the upper right-hand corner of the tiny screen there appeared the word DONE. I’ll admit, I was flummoxed, but replied in my usual eloquent manner: “Huh?” Sensing that I was surely experiencing intellectual overload, she calmly said, “Done. Don’t you remember what Mom-Mom (her Grandmother and my Mother-in-Law, Lorraine) would say when we kids used that word incorrectly? She’d always say, ‘Meat is done; human beings are finished.’”
Yes! I had not remembered that, but once Hope reminded me, I had a very clear picture of Lorraine saying that very thing. Over and over and over again. My mother-in-law never went to college, but she possessed a natural intelligence and supernatural curiosity about the way of the world and just about everything in it. She and I would frequently argue good-naturedly about a variety of things, more often than not about words and their correct usage. We had an on-going battle over the popular but frequently misused phrase: “I could(n’t) care less.”
I maintained (as I will until my dying day) that the correct usage of that overused phrase is “I couldn’t care less.” Lorraine would argue that the way I said it constituted a double-negative and that the correct phrasing is “I could care less.” I patiently (sometimes not so patiently) reminded her that I made my living (meager as it may have been) as a wordsmith, and that she should cease her foolish and futile resistance and simply admit that I—not she—was correct. Wasn’t gonna happen.
So I brought out the heavy artillery… “It’s not a double-negative,” I said. “A double-negative would be: ‘I couldn’t not care less.’” And then I continued, “When you say ‘I could care less,’ it means that, while you may care extremely little about a particular subject, perhaps as minute as quantum quantities, it is conceivable that you could care even less about it than you do. Clearly that’s not the intended meaning of the phrase. But when you say it my way it means that no matter what—come hell or high water, God willin’ and the creek don’t rise—you couldn’t possibly care less about some stupid thing or other! Got it?”
At this point, she’d look at me with the smallest of smirks on her otherwise friendly face and, though she would say no more about the issue, I knew exactly what she was thinking: I was just another stubborn Italian (like her saintly husband Joe) and that someday I would come to see the error of my ways. But while Lorraine was as wrong as rain about caring-or-not-caring-less, she was as right as sunshine when it came to done. (It really annoys me that most of the people who habitually say “I’m done!” never actually seem to be done with what they’re saying they’re done with and continue doing the done thing ad infinitum. But that’s another blog entirely.)
For now, though, let me just say that I stand firmly with Hope in her noble quest to destroy done once and for all. We have tentatively named our protest, “We’re Done with Done!” And while it may not have the gravitas of, say, “Save the Whales” or “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute,” it is vastly superior to some of those other, lesser known, causes like “Liberate the Lemurs,” or “Caress a Carrot Today.” While I sincerely hope that you will stand with us in support of the Demise of Done movement, if you’d really rather not, well, frankly my dear, I couldn’t care less.