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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Monday, January 17, 2000

Some words neither
here nor there

IN a recent letter to the editor, the writer complained that another newspaper's bad review of the Elton John concert was "the last thing Hawaii needs."

We are so used to hearing generalizations like "the last thing I need is ..." that we don't really pay attention to them any more.

The letter writer was simply using overstatement to hammer home his point that the Elton John review was too critical. Because, obviously, a bad concert review is not the last thing Hawaii needs.

Just exactly what does Hawaii need? Is there an official list? Who keeps track of the list so that we may really know the last thing Hawaii needs?

I could guess. I'd say a nuclear explosion would be one of the last things Hawaii needs. An outbreak of the Ebola virus would probably be lower on the list than a bad concert review. One of the last things Hawaii needs probably is for a shipping container filled with two million brown tree snakes to be opened. There are so many things that Hawaii doesn't need that it's almost impossible to identify the one LAST thing Hawaii needs. And if it's the last thing Hawaii needs, does Hawaii need it at all?

Personally, I could care less. Or I couldn't care less. People get those cliches confused. They are used interchangeably. But how can two diametrically opposed statements be used to express the same sentiment?

"I couldn't care less" is the more straightforward. It implies that whatever being discussed is of such little importance to one of the parties that that party simply could not find it within himself to care any less. He is rock bottom on the caring meter. There is no more caring he can do. Zippo.

BUT if he feels that way, why use the word "care" at all. Care implies concern for something. If you have absolutely no concern for something, why not just spit it out? Just say, "That's stupid." Why be snooty about it and bring up the entire spectrum of caring to indicate that you are on the extreme uncaring end?

If you are going to be snooty, it's better to say, "I could care less." That has a sarcastic lilt to it. It's an airy way of passing off the subject of discussion as not worthy of your consideration. Like, I could care less, if I really wanted to, but it isn't worth my trouble.

Some people think these kinds of academic discussions are neither here nor there. Which is odd, because you'd figure that if something isn't "here" it's got to be somewhere else, which is generally referred to as "there."

If something is neither here nor there, where the hell is it? Jersey?

The only good thing about that phrase is that it teaches people to use the conjunction "nor" whenever you use "neither." Nor is like neither's younger brother: He never leaves home without him. If neither's around, you can bet that nor is somewhere near.

Neither and nor have instructions never to hang around the likes of either and or. But every once in a while, some ill-bred commoner or newspaper columnist will say something like "that is neither here OR there," which is just plain wrong on so many levels. You are either here or there or neither here nor there. Period. Just remember, wherever you go, there you are.

How we wandered into this bad part of the grammar neighborhood, I don't remember. Oh yeah. We were having a perfectly nice conversation about that Elton John concert when we lurched off into the land of esoterica. Which was one of the last things we needed.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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