I love reading great writing, watching skilled orators and listening to beautiful dialogue.
On television, Aaron Sorkin’s writing is about as entertaining as it gets. Those first two seasons of The West Wing are literary gold. I love the courtroom scenes in A Few Good Men; and I was impressed with HBO’s The Newsroom. (That 10-minute opening scene in the first episode in which Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, explains why America is not the greatest country in the world is truth, art and beauty, with apologies to John Keats for stealing his line from Ode on a Grecian Urn: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”.)
But, Sorkin, just like several Hollywood writers, has a tendency to have his characters say “I could care less” when the correct expression is “I couldn’t care less”. I understand that the tone of voice when uttering the former could indicate that the character truly does not care, but to my ears, it is still wrong. If the goal of a writer is to convey accurately a meaning, then the correct usage of words is an integral part of the job.
Certainly the beauty of language is that it can evolve, but it can also mean what it was originally intended to mean when it was introduced to the world 70 years ago. What I do not care for in recent times is how society will sometimes accept certain expressions when they are – quite simply – wrong.
Sorkin has used “I could care less” in The West Wing and The Newsroom, and I want Jerry Seinfeld to tell him he’s wrong. (I assume Seinfeld would have more luck reaching out to Sorkin than I.) The answer to the question why I want Seinfeld to do this is because he’s good at it.
I know nothing about the science of comedy or what standup comedians go through, but I believe that what they and journalists share in common is a penchant for accuracy. Comedians and journalists are able to present ideas and stories only with words. Language is the only ammunition for a standup comic and a journalist.
I’m rewatching several episodes of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (by product placement Acura). Seinfeld has a great ability to correct people when they are wrong. When speaking with Sebastian Maniscalco, Jerry tells him that he is pretty sure he is not using the word “bestiality” in the correct context. But Jerry has this knack to call people out on their misuse of words or on their mispronunciation without making them feel bad. He is showing respect while also being a stickler for accuracy. (I may be a stickler for accuracy, but I don’t have the ability to be as respectful. I wouldn’t necessarily want to make a friend or even an acquaintance feel bad, but I fear I simply don’t have what it takes to be as considerate.)
When speaking to Alec Baldwin in another episode of his show, Seinfeld questions Alec’s pronunciation of “rapier”. Again, he does it with such aplomb that it becomes a “bit” between the two of them.
Seinfeld corrects people in a disarming manner, and that is a skill. When speaking to ESPN’s Rich Eisen about his Netflix special, Jerry before Seinfeld, Eisen asks him about people who take their shoes off on a plane. Jerry explains that his thought process on the flight would be trying to figure out how to speak to this person and not make him mad. That would be the puzzle, Seinfeld says.
It is that level of concern that I want him to use because unlike Sorkin I could care less about his feelings – and I do.
Michael Jabri-Pickett Speechwriter • Editor • Journalist