Turn of Phrase – Sex For Money Post #9

Sex For Money is a semi-regular blog series about my experiences in writing, publishing, and marketing gay erotica and M/M erotic romance.  All of this information is from my own experience, so your experience may differ.  It’s hoped that sharing this information might be helpful to new and aspiring erotica and erotic romance authors, as I see a lot of questions and a lot of misinformation out there.  To read more Sex For Money posts, click here.

The English language (same with most languages, I would think) can be odd at times.  Common phrases can take on a life of their own and evolve over time — sometimes to the point where it might not make sense.  And, to complicate matters, the evolution of phrases can be regional.

I’m specifically referring to two phrases — “nip it in the bud” and “couldn’t care less.”

Let’s start with “nip it in the bud” — looking at it, the meaning of the phrase is probably quite obvious.  Nip means to pinch, and bud refers to a flower bud, before it blooms.  So if you “nip it in the bud,” you are pinching off the bud on a plant before it blooms into a flower.  When using that phrase in general non-gardening contexts, it means to stop something before it becomes a problem.

What I’ve been hearing more and more lately (including from a doctor), is the corrupted version, “nip it in the butt.”  To nip something (or someone) in the butt would likely hurry something along.  If you pinch an animal in the butt, or swat its butt or something, it’s likely to hurry along.  So, in effect, someone saying “nip it in the butt” is likely saying something completely opposite to what they intended.

My hunch is that this evolution of the phrase is largely because people are hearing it wrong and repeating what they thought they heard.  Also, if the listener is not a gardener at all, they might not understand the bud reference and assume that the person said butt.  While “nip it in the butt” doesn’t mean what it’s used to mean, society has generally accepted it to mean the same thing as “nip it in the bud.”

However, if we want to get anal here, “nip it in the butt” could still have the meaning a writer intends.  While “nip it in the bud” would mean to stop something before it starts, “nip it in the butt” could bring the whatever it is to an end much sooner.  My vet said we needed to take care of my cat’s ear infection and “nip it in the butt” — and since the ear infection is already there, nipping it in the butt could imply hurrying the process along so the infection clears quickly.

But what about “couldn’t care less”?  This one is interesting because in a few quick Google searches (yes, I do heavy and detailed research on this blog), the phrase has evolved to become “could care less” in the USA only, and even then, it’s not used by all people in the USA.

“Couldn’t care less” means that the speaker cares so little about something that they are incapable of caring less about that thing.  “Could care less” implies the speaker still cares (at least a little) about the thing, since they are capable of caring less about it.  However, both phrases are used to mean that the speaker is incapable of caring less.

So, these two phrases mean the exact opposite, when you look at the meanings of the words, but they are used to mean the same thing.

The blog over at Dictionary.com has an interesting discussion about this (and a few other) phrases.  Turns out that “could care less” could have Yiddish origins and may be intended to be spoken sarcastically… bringing it to mean the same thing as the original phrase.

So… how does this affect the writer of erotica and erotic romance?  (Or, really, the writer of anything?)

Writers need to be aware of the meanings of the phrases they use — and ensure they are using the correct phrases.  While most books are published in the USA, I’ve yet to see a publisher use “could care less” — they pretty much always use “couldn’t care less”, because they know that the American version of the phrase doesn’t make logical sense outside of the USA (and even not throughout the entire USA as it’s not used by everybody).

If you’re a self-published writer, it’s crucial that you’re aware of these things, as you may not have an editor poring over your words.  (And that’s another mis-written phrase — it’s “pore over” something, not “pour over” something… unless you’re talking about making coffee using the “pour over” method, in which case that’s the right “pour” since it involves pouring water over coffee grounds.)  As a self-published author, you are responsible for putting out work of the highest quality, capable of competing with the big house publishers, and if you are incorrectly using phrases or swapping in the wrong words, you’re going to lose readers.


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