"Cares not" or "cares naught"?
July 31, 2014 3:03 PM   Subscribe

For example, should the phrase be "I care naught for him" or "I care not for him"? I see the argument for the former (i.e. "I care nothing for him") and the latter ("I don't care for him"), but is one better than the other? Are they interchangeable, or significantly different?
posted by c'mon sea legs to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
American Midwest English dialect: I've always taken this as "I care not for him", and haven't really heard naught used in this context.
posted by RainyJay at 3:12 PM on July 31, 2014

As a linguist, I'm professionally obligated to tell you it doesn't matter. If you're going off of which is the "original", the OED says "care naught/care nought" but also has "care not" (under the "naught" entry, so that editor at least seems to think that's just a spelling issue). As you note, both make sense.

(And, if you're in America, odds are, you have the vowels in not/naught merged anyway, so it'll sound the same when you say it.)
posted by damayanti at 3:13 PM on July 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's "cares not" by a landslide as far as usage goes: Google books comparison.
posted by jjwiseman at 3:14 PM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Semantically I interpret these as all being roughly the same, so it's pretty much a stylistic question. But "I care naught" looks weird and archaic to me and makes me wonder whether you're trying to make some kind of point by writing it that way, or are we LARPing or something. Your parenthetical alternatives both seem more comfortable, direct, and modern to me.
posted by aubilenon at 3:17 PM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think I'm looking for both colloquial use and dramatic use. This came up because I was typing a ironic grand statement about an online schedule system and saying "[System] cares naught for our summer happiness" and wasn't sure if the dramatic "naught" was correct, incorrect, both, neither, etc.

Seems like "cares not" is best for general use, but that "cares naught" when I'm talking about a fearsome behemoth is not unwarranted?
posted by c'mon sea legs at 3:21 PM on July 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Seems like "cares not" is best for general use, but that "cares naught" when I'm talking about a fearsome behemoth is not unwarranted?

I would whole-heartedly agree with that. I have never noticed "cares naught" before, but I was absolutely charmed by it as a semi-archaic usage in your question. Fearsome behemoths, beware!
posted by jaguar at 3:25 PM on July 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Everyone is correct: it is a distinction without a difference.
posted by trip and a half at 3:26 PM on July 31, 2014

I have a subtle preference for "X cares naught for Y" having a meaning closer to "Y is irrelevant to X" where "X cares not for Y" heading more towards an antagonistic "X dislikes Y" sense.
posted by straw at 3:26 PM on July 31, 2014

It's "cares not" by a landslide as far as usage goes: Google books comparison.

You don't even need to bother with Google Books. Just do a Google search for both phrases:

"cares not for" — About 2,250,000 results

"cares naught for" — About 192,000 results

I doubt many readers draw any subtle distinction between the two. Frankly, the main difference is that "not" looks more plain and straightforward, while "naught" looks like a self-conscious affectation.
posted by John Cohen at 3:53 PM on July 31, 2014

Fearsome behemoths, beware!

The whole point of behemoths, juggernauts, and the like, is that they don't beware for nobody.
posted by aubilenon at 4:20 PM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it would depend on whether you were in a Gilbert and Sullivan musical... or naught.

(In other words, "naught" sounds slightly archaic, formal, and even slightly funny to my American ears.)
posted by amtho at 4:44 PM on July 31, 2014

Fairly certain it is "cares not," though "not" and "naught" are pronounced exactly the same way anyway. It took me a long time to learn that x0 as used in college-level math classes is "x naught" rather than "x not," and fruitless effort is "all done for naught" rather than "all done for not."

Maybe this is another instance of something like that.
posted by tckma at 4:48 PM on July 31, 2014

I suspect that "care naught" is an eggcorn for "care not":

"an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker's dialect (sometimes called oronyms). The new phrase introduces a meaning that is different from the original, but plausible in the same context, such as "old-timers' disease" for "Alzheimer's disease".

So "cares naught" is incorrect in the sense that it's probably an unintentional deviation from "cares not," but on the other hand, it also expresses a subtly distinct sense. But only when it's read rather than heard, of course!
posted by clockzero at 5:18 PM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Or it could almost be a mondegreen, too:

"...the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning.

Mondegreens are most often created by a person listening to a poem or a song; the listener, being unable to clearly hear a lyric, substitutes words that sound similar, and make some kind of sense."

posted by clockzero at 5:26 PM on July 31, 2014

I haven't heard anyone use either expression since roughly the War of 1812.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:53 PM on July 31, 2014

Fascinating! So I read the question and was immediately like, "It's naught!" But then I thought for another second and starting questioning myself. So I asked my husband, and he thought for a minute and then went, "Huh, I don't know". I made him guess and his inclination was "not".

I'm not sure what this says about us, but my inclination to naught was that you were saying you cared not the slightest little bit, or nothing (aka, naught), not that you just didn't care (which in my mind is not). But I pronounce them the same and never had to write it so.... Maybe I'm just super old fashioned?
posted by katers890 at 6:23 PM on July 31, 2014

I am seeing results for both on Google Books as far back as the 1400s, but I appreciate that "care naught" keeps me away from Yoda grammar.
posted by Winnemac at 7:35 PM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

As you said, "naught" means nothing. "I care nothing for him" and "I do not care for him" were both used, depending on context; each conveys a slightly different tone. "Naught" is somewhat stronger, more dramatic and absolute. "Not" is more basic negation, and so unsurprisingly more common.

In terms of prosody, "I care naught" would always have the stress on the "naught", while "I care not" would have the stress on either "care" or "not," again depending on the context (how strong the speaker's feelings are).

With respect to the eggcorn question, there's no way to know for sure but it's worth pointing out that the expression "care aught for" also appears. ("Naught" is not an alternative spelling of "not": it's the negation of "aught".)

In short it's not a question of correctness, it's a question of what you want to convey.
posted by trig at 9:57 PM on July 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

It matters not, or naught.
posted by Segundus at 11:16 PM on July 31, 2014

'Naught' still exists in certain British dialects as 'nowt'. "What you got there then?" "Nowt." "Who was that?" "F***ing nowt (an inconsequential fellow)."

Oh, and 'aught' also exists as 'owt'.
posted by glasseyes at 2:51 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

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