Thursday, November 03, 2016

Give a shit?

Some months back I struggled to put together the headboard for an Ikea bed (and was reminded the items one gets at that store are actually Swedish torture devices masquerading as affordable furniture), and I vowed it was the last fucking thing I'd ever put together from there*. As I was alone I didn't refrain from venting my frustration through profane utterances. At one point I declared (in reference to the possibility of being required to assemble some such item in the future) that I "didn't give a shit" in some hypothetical wherein I may have to leave my wife and child in order to escape another agrivating assembly scenario.

It was not one of my finer moments, but that's not the point here.

Reflecting later on that expression—"I don't give a shit"—I was somewhat intrigued as to how that became a common idiom. It connotes a significant lack of concern for consequences with the indication of anger and/or exasperation; it carries a bit stronger message than merely saying "I really don't care." And while I have no difficulty believing there would be a need for such a sentiment, parsing out the literal meanings of the component terms there is the suggestion that if one does care about the ramifications of a decision one "gives a shit," and in that scenario it raises the question: To whom is one giving that shit?

And more important: Who would accept it? Who would want another's fecal matter as proof of one's fidelity to concern? And let's not ponder the specifics of how the shit is procured for such a transfer (fished from a toilet, or directly into the hand, etc.).

It seems pretty clear if one is taking his crap and presenting to another one really doesn't give a shit, thus the expression to indicate a lack of concern would be "I'll give a shit"; that carries more of a proper suggestion of whether one cares or not. If one is worries about what could come of an action one would not press one's luck by the action of literally providing one's excrement (even if done so in a sealed bag); not giving another one's shit would be the best way to avoid undesirable ramifications.

Clearly we shouldn't worry much about whether the expression stands up to even this rudimentary semantical analysis. Of course, given the connotation of frustration inherent to the expression, and frustration makes one irrational, it may be perfectly capturing that feeling in a form that conveys one doesn't give a shit about making literal sense—that is how much one is unconcerned with consequence.

Perhaps that is why it caught on so well. It appeals to the part of our brain that kicks in when there is a need to vent the emotion coming from circumstances that, frankly, stink.


* Of course it was not. Eventually our son outgrew his crib and needed a bed. That, however, I got together without as much profanity.

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