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Updated by Graeme Thomson on Nov 11, 2014
Headline for 5 Expressions That Are Utterly Meaningless
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5 Expressions That Are Utterly Meaningless

Many common expressions are strange; many common expressions have bizarre origins. But here are 5 that are actually, logically, meaningless.

1

I Could Care Less

I Could Care Less

A bizarre Americanism that seeks, but signally fails, to convey the same meaning as its British English counterpart: I couldn’t care less. If you could care less, the obvious implication is that you actually do care a bit – but with no sense of the scale for how much that bit might be. Equally, it could mean that you actually care a great deal: as in, “Mrs. Smith, I have bad news. You have stage 4 lung cancer.” “Oh, I could care less...if you had told me it was just a cold.” A splendidly strange example of semantic inversion.

2

I’m Head Over Heels.

I’m Head Over Heels.

Why is there anything remotely unusual about being head over heels? Unless you’re in some kind of inverted yoga position, your head is generally always over your heels. It is sometimes argued that this odd expression has something to do with turning cartwheels. If so, then surely the correct expression should be either, “I’m head under heels” or “I’m heels over head.”

3

Don't Cry Over Spilled Milk.

Don't Cry Over Spilled Milk.

Why would you cry “over” spilled milk? For one thing, unless you’re a clumsy dairy maid, it’s unlikely that you’re crying because you’ve actually spilled milk. And, even if you are, it’s entirely possible that you spilled it because you slipped and fell; in which case you’re crying alongside, or even possibly under, spilled milk. When it comes to the spilled milk, however, the problem isn’t so much the literal versus the figurative: the problem is all about the preposition. Either way, you’re almost certainly crying ABOUT spilled milk.

4

He Hit Me Over the Head

He Hit Me Over the Head

So what’s the problem? If he hit you OVER the head, he missed your head. Stop making such a fuss about nothing. Or do you mean, “He hit me ON the head?” See, Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk.

5

You’ve had it.

You’ve had it.

A deeply puzzling expression that actually means:
(a) You haven’t had it,
(b) And, what’s more, you’re not going to get it.