On caring less, and a new abbreviation (Ћ)

I have a couple of new posts up at Macmillan Dictionary Blog.

Do we need to abbreviate ‘the’? looks at a recent orthographic innovation: Ћ, intended as a one-character symbol for the. If there were a pressing need for such an abbreviation, Ћ would stand a better chance of catching on. But we have lots of more familiar alternatives:

Ћ is already a character known as Tshe in the Cyrillic script, which will help the symbol’s availability. (The resemblance is apparently coincidental.) Ultimately, though, its success as shorthand for the depends on whether people adopt it and make its use habitual and normal.

And while I wish Mathis the best of luck, I can’t see Ћ catching on very widely. Some people already abbreviate the as de, da, th, t/ or d, though these are effectively restricted to informal contexts such as text messages and Twitter. In Old English a þ (“thorn”) with a stroke was used the same way. Complete omission of the article is more common…

You can read the rest here. Will you be adopting Ћ?


Next up: Could you care less? is about the expression I could care less and the constant cavilling it attracts. In David Mitchell’s entertaining video at the Guardian, he protests that the phrase implies you do care and is “useless as an indicator of how much you care”. I suggest that that’s true only

in a fantasy land where the expression and interpretation of language are tone deaf and bound strictly by formal logic. The point about idioms is that that’s not how they work. . . . Treating idioms this way is – to use Lane Greene’s choice phrase – “selective hyper-literalism”.

In speech, the stress pattern of an idiom can affect its interpretation, and so it is with I could care less. . . . As a Negative Polarity Item, it has its own independent negative force – like I could give a damn, which is synonymous with I couldn’t give a damn.

Read on if you couldn’t not care more or less about this, or for older articles visit the archive.

6 Responses to On caring less, and a new abbreviation (Ћ)

  1. May have said this already, but if (why?) we really need a short form of “the”, why not use “t”? This would be similar to Yorkshire English, I think, and maybe other varieties. It is sometimes represented as in “t’ pub” but apostrophe could be dropped?

  2. Alina Cincan says:

    I really can’t see it catching on to be honest. First of all, it would look out of place and weird among the rest of the words in a sentence. Secondly, will they have to make new keyboards to include this symbol? Or will people have to remember the shortcut for it (which would probably take longer to type than “the” as a full word). I can’t see any advantage Ћ would bring.

  3. Stan says:

    Edward: It’s as good a candidate as any, and as you say, it’s common in some dialects. But people will adopt whatever abbreviation they prefer, or none at all, so we’re likely to keep seeing considerable variation here.

    Alina: Its unfamiliarity definitely works against it, and I’ve read some typographic criticisms too. As far as I know, it’s being added to some digital keyboards, but whether this increased availability is enough to give it staying power among a significant subset of users remains to be seen.

  4. wisewebwoman says:

    What I always heard growing up was “I couldn’t care less” which made sense to me. The opposite, which you reference, has always left me baffled. I always want to shout: “Well then, show me!”

  5. I’m with wisewebwoman, we always used to say ‘I couldn’t care less’. Heh. I mean, I still sometimes say that :) But I think I used to say it a lot more, when I was a teenager!

    When I was writing notes at uni, I used to use ‘e’ with a straight line above it, like a hat, to signify ‘the’. It was one of many shorthand words I came up with be able to keep up with the lecturers or take notes quickly while reading. Some of the other abbreviations I used were ‘gens’ (French for ‘people’, but much shorter and quicker to write) and ‘zw’ for between (the German abbreviation, ‘zwischen’).

    It also meant nobody could borrow my notes! But this was handwriting — these days, I’d be likely to keep up a lot better on the keyboard, and since I generally touch type, having an abbreviation would probably make things slower for me.

  6. Stan says:

    WWW: I see where you’re coming from, but “I could care less” just doesn’t make literal sense when it’s used to mean “I couldn’t care less”. It’s similar to how “I could give a damn” means the same as “I couldn’t give a damn”, though I don’t hear many complaints about that one.

    climbing bean: Welcome! Those are very interesting abbreviations. Occasionally I use ppl as shorthand for people, but I only ever used gens in actual French. I may have used zw too, and definitely usw. for “etc.”, but neither became habitual. Your “e”-with-a-hat meaning “the” sounds great – you were quite the code-maker.

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