Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Things That Annoy

Two turns of phrase that get under my skin:

1. "Correlation is not causation."

What this is meant to convey: Just because X and Y are correlated doesn't mean that X causes Y.

Example: Doctors have observed a positive correlation between shoe size and IQ score for children. Most people would reject the explanation that big feet cause increased intelligence, because a more reasonable explanation is that as children get older their intellects mature and at the same time they are growing physically and their feet are getting bigger. However, it's not correct to make the general statement that correlation is not causation, because, as this counter-example shows, correlation sometimes does suggest causation: Doctors have observed a positive correlation between the number of blows to the head and the severity of headache pain in the victim. Not many people would bother to look for another cause for this relationship: it's reasonable to conclude that X is correlated with Y, because X is causing Y.

Corrected version: "Correlation does not require causation."

2. "I could care less."

What this is meant to convey: I don't care at all.

Example: Ever since Thompson dropped out of the race, I could care less about the coming election. Logically, however, this implies the opposite of the intended meaning. If there is still capacity to care less, it means I care more than not at all. (Somebody actually created a chart to show how this works.)

Corrected version: "I couldn't care less."*

What are your grammatical pet peeves?

[* Prediction: Some reader will comment to the effect that he "could care less" about my analysis.]

20 Comments:

Anonymous Robb Allen said...

If you're feeling sick to your stomach, the phrase is:

I am nauseated.

If you say I am nauseous, it means you make other people sick. Nauseous is akin to noxious.

I never realized that until a friend pointed it out to me years ago. Now, I am condemned to correct everyone around me lest I go insane.

1/29/2008 11:20 AM  
Blogger carnaby said...

I could care.

1/29/2008 12:23 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

Good call, Robb. That's something my mother would have pointed out to me. Along those lines, it's incorrect to say "Vegetables are healthy" unless you actually mean that the veggies themselves possess good health. If you're talking about the fact that it's good for you to eat your veggies, then you should say "Vegetables are healthful."

1/29/2008 12:39 PM  
Blogger Cam said...

The death of adverbs e.g. drive safe, come over here quick...safely, quickly people

1/29/2008 4:44 PM  
Blogger Cam said...

and the counter example that gets under my skin.."I feel badly" no, you don't - you feel BAD...unless your fingers are numb.

1/29/2008 4:48 PM  
Blogger Russell said...

"Irregardless" Regardless of the current usage, it's non-standard! Stop using it!


"I could care less, but I don't want to put in the extra effort not caring anymore than I currently care." Is that better?

1/29/2008 6:17 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

In other words, "I don't care that I could care less." If you really didn't care, then it would be, "I couldn't care less that I could care less."

Ditto on the "irregardless" thing. It's funny, though, I get disapproving looks from people when I use "irrespective," but when they go to correct me they get confused.

1/30/2008 11:38 AM  
Blogger carnaby said...

I'll stick with plain and simple: "I don't care."

1/30/2008 11:46 AM  
Anonymous lance said...

Where to begin...

Momentarily is almost always used to mean "in a moment" rather than it's true meaning of "only for a moment".

When a flight attendant announces "We will be airbourne momentarily" she is announcing an emminent crash.

1/30/2008 12:49 PM  
Anonymous lance said...

I just noticed, and was annoyed by, the misspellings in my post. My grammar and vocabulary is mercifully better than my spelling.

1/30/2008 12:51 PM  
Blogger Russell said...

Thought of another one! The misuse of "literally" as a superlative when, quite clearly, it isn't literal at all.

Re: "irrespective"
I can't help but to giggle inside when someone makes animadversions on another's grammar usage when they are in the wrong!

"I couldn't care less that I could care less."

But then you can go one more meta level, and say "I could care less that I couldn't care less that I could care less." And that invokes a higher meta level, and another, and...

Well, I guess at this point, I can only quote Carnaby "I don't care."

1/30/2008 12:52 PM  
Anonymous lance said...

ACCK! My grammar is apparently not good enough to catch the misuse of "is" rather than "are" in the last post. I'm going to run this comment through to a good word processor and then quit while I'm behind.

1/30/2008 12:55 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

Yes, a good old fashioned "I don't care" gets the job done. And if you couldn't care less, a simple "I don't care" conveys that better than the more emphatic "I couldn't care less." Because, really, if you don't care, why bother to say any more about it than you have to.

Lance: Heh. :-)

1/30/2008 9:59 PM  
Anonymous CAshane said...

I hear it often on the radio and television: "decimated" used when the speaker means "annihilated". Bugs me as much as when "clip" is used when it should be "magazine".

2/05/2008 1:53 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

That's a subtle one! I didn't realize that 'decimated' and 'decimate' are referring to two different things. Very interesting. The things you learn...

2/06/2008 8:00 AM  
Blogger RyanDC said...

I taught an introductory English class at the local university. The class was intended for freshmen interested in pursuing a career in the social sciences. The first day, I wrote on the board what my three pet peeves were, and told my students they'd be docked a grade on any paper in which any one of these occurs.

#1) The use of "their" as a gender neuter possessive. For example, "When a child speaks to their parents." I've even seen this in a couple laws: "If a person is found guilty of said offense, then their rights to...." A noun with an "a" before it is singular. "Their" is a plural possessive. I hate it when people are too lazy to either pluralize their nouns or use "his/her."

#2) The "in...it says" way of quoting. An example would be: "In 'Principles of Science,' it says that ants are insects." First of all, books don't talk. They can't say anything. Second of all, you can just drop the "in" and the "it" and get: "'Principles of Science' states that..."

#3) The word 'like' has been absorbed as some sort of literary slang. I've read papers where the authors have written "And he was, like, 'We have a paper due!'" In college, any abuse of the word "like" should be treated with a ruler on somebody's wrists.

That's all. I'm sure I could think of a few more, but those are my top 3.

2/06/2008 1:05 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

Somebody actually used "like" in that manner in a paper? That definitely warrants some kind of corporal punishment.

2/07/2008 1:44 PM  
Blogger Gringo_Malo said...

I'm annoyed by the use of nominative pronouns as objects, for example, "John brought some beer for Bill and I." Perhaps because I heard it often as a kid, the opposite misuse, "Bill and me are gonna go drink some beer," annoys me less.

2/08/2008 12:07 PM  
Blogger Monkeydarts said...

I hear people use "less" when they mean "fewer" almost every day. I think this happens because "more" is the opposite of both words. An example is, "WFNZ, now with less commercials every hour!"

3/07/2008 10:25 AM  
Blogger Monkeydarts said...

gringo... The use of "myself" instead of "me" is prevalent too. I've long believed this was due to a vague sense that there was something wrong with referring to "me."

3/07/2008 10:27 AM  

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