Kipatrick is at it again
James Kilpatrick has again donned his judge's robe to pronounce on those uses of English he deems perfidious. In my morning Dispatch, he condemned to death the phrase "as of yet," as when used in locutions like "The sun has not risen as of yet." He notes that "as of" is unnecessary and he is quite right about that. The sentence, "The sun has not risen yet" gets across the same point in fewer words. Normally, I like to drub Kilpatrick around the ears for his pretentious offerings but he gets a gold star on this one. The problem is that often when there are two locutions saying the same thing where one does so with more words some secondary meaning is attached. Note that "He killed the mayor" and "He caused the mayor to come to be dead" differ in that the latter suggests the subject might have set the murder in motion without doing the dirty deed himself, whereas the former, while consistent with that, would normally be used when the subject directly killed the mayor. The same defense cannot be made for "as of" as far as I can see.
He also considers the odd couple, "I could care less" and "I couldn't care less." He's happy about having both in the language, claiming that the former expression "acknowledges some degree of concern" even if not much. Normally, when we have two propositions, "P" and "not P," they contradict each other. Construed literally, "I could care less about John" entails that the speaker is capable of caring less than he or she does about John but, for one reason or another, doesn't happen to. This oddity seems to be restricted to "care."
Take another verb of "caring" like "love."
I could love Sally less.The first of these sentences wouldn't normally be used as a put down but the latter works just as well as a put down as "I couldn't care less." What is true of "love" is true of "like" as well. Kilpatrick has missed the boat here. In my opinion, "I could care less" is the result of some blunder involving just the verb "care" that happened to catch on. I'm not going to condemn it to verbal hell but to suggest that it is some sort of garden variety English as Kilpatrick's "analysis" suggests, strikes me as very unKilpatrickan. He missed a great opportunity here.
I couldn't love Sally less.
What chaps my butt, however, is his return to the condemnation of the use of "they" as a generic singular pronoun, as in the case of a sentence like "When a person orders Chardonnay with roast beef, they should be thrown out of the joint." I have blogged on this before but a defense of "they" is worth repeating. The fact is that grammatically, a singular pronoun must be used -- either "he" or "she" -- in such a case but it won't do to put in "he" and it won't do to put in "she." We mean to be making a unisex claim here, that is to say, a claim applying to both males and females. We are stuck either with "he or she" or "she or he" or the stylistic barbarity "he/she" or "she/he." I think the person who first made the linguistic blunder of using "they" in general claims of this sort, should be give the Nobel Grammar Prize, not to be condemned to occupy whatever level of hell Kilpatrick means to condemn grammar felons to.