When you write and perform comedy, you learn to love and respect the word; the turn of phrase; the colloquialism. And when you’ve been doing it for a number of years, you learn to track idioms and popular expressions, so your writing and performing can be as relevant as possible.
That’s why I love chronicling the changes in the language that have, and are, taking place in my own lifetime. It’s natural, and inevitable, that our language will change over time, but sometimes it’s because people take shortcuts, or merely repeat the last usage of a word or phrase that they heard. Take the phrase “Happy as a clam”. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why all clams are so darn happy? So much so that a popular idiom would be written about it? Spoiler Alert: Clams are not generally happy. They, like all other living species on this planet, have happy times and not-so-happy times. But if it happens to be high tide, they are going to be very happy indeed. Because they cannot be dug up by clam-diggers and eaten. The original phrase was “Happy as clam at high tide”. Somehow the “high tide” part got dropped along the way, and no one seems to have missed it.
Then there’s “I could care less”. What people are trying to convey when using this phrase is that they don’t care at all about a certain thing; that there is no amount of caring that is below how much they care. The proper phrase to convey this thought would actually be “I couldn’t care less”. By saying “I COULD care less” you are saying just THAT – you could actually care less about it, therefore your level of caring is certainly not zero.
OK, one more. The podium. I blame this one on AV companies. A podium is a platform or box that one stands on, like a conductor or an Olympic medal winner. Pod, from the Greek for foot. A lectern is a tall stand with a sloping top to hold a book or notes, from which a lecturer can read while standing up. When AV companies started mounting microphones onto lecterns, they started calling them podium mics. I was actually around when this shift happened and can attest to the historical accuracy. Once they started calling these lecterns “podiums”, everybody just went along with it.
I occasionally point out one of these idiom-shifts to someone who has just used the newer, mutated version of a phrase, thinking it might interest and maybe even amuse them. It usually doesn’t. In many cases it seems that they really “couldn’t care less”. They have more important things to do. To them it’s not an etymological crisis – it’s just progress.
So, feel free to go about your daily lives, oblivious of these corruptions and adulterations of our language. And know that there is someone on the wall – ever vigilant and eagle eyed. Protecting you. And when I wrote the title of this piece, “I could care less that you’re happy as a clam”, I meant it. I COULD care less... but I don’t!