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On or Off? I Could Care Less

Surfing around today, I encountered a variation of a common expression that always brings me up short. Allow me to explain.

I'm sure you've seen in countless cartoons the symbol of a brilliant new idea depicted by a glowing light bulb suspended over the thinker's head. When I have one of those A-ha! moments (really quite rare), I say that a light bulb went off. My darling wife kids me about this, because, if you think about it, when a light bulb goes off, you're in darkness. In my defense, I'm thinking of that bulb going off like an explosion of inspiration (or in my case, like a little firecracker), but she's right, saying that a light bulb went on just makes more sense.

In the interest of science, I checked with Google to see which version was more popular. I wasn't surprised that my wrong version garnered more hits. After all, that's not the only expression where the wrong version dominates. Take for instance the most egregious example I know, “I could care less.” Ugh. I guess you might be able to make that work if you delivered it drenched in sarcasm, but most people say it without a trace of irony when they really mean, I couldn't care less.

But hey, English isn't our strong suit. As Ralph Wiggum, young scholar and native speaker, once said, “Me fail English? That's unpossible.”

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