"All seriousness aside"

Wilson Gray wilson.gray at RCN.COM
Fri Aug 5 16:49:12 UTC 2005

On Aug 5, 2005, at 10:21 AM, Laurence Horn wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: "All seriousness aside"
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> At 7:04 PM -0400 8/4/05, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>> On Thu, 4 Aug 2005 13:17:51 -0400, Laurence Horn
>> <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>> wrote:
>>> At 11:55 PM -0400 8/3/05, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>>>> "All seriousness aside" apparently started out as a comedian's
>>>> line-- I
>>>> see it credited to Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, and Steve Allen, so it
>>>> probably goes back to the vaudeville era. (The Southern comedian
>>>> Brother
>>>> Dave Gardner even recorded an album called "All Seriousness Aside"
>>>> in
>>>> 1963.) As I understand it, the expression often functioned as
>>>> something
>>>> of an ironic metajoke, signaling to the audience that the impending
>>>> shift to an ostensibly more serious tone shouldn't be taken very
>>>> seriously.
>>> There's also "Seriously, though", another comedian's stock line.
>> I'm sure that metadiscursive framing devices like "Seriously,
>> though..."
>> or "But seriously, folks..." have deep roots in the vaudeville
>> tradition.
>> The thing with "All seriousness aside..." is that it *sounds* like
>> one of
>> those framing devices (sharing prosodic characteristics), even though
>> its
>> literal meaning is the exact opposite. That's why I called it an
>> ironic
>> metajoke, since it plays with the very conventions of comedic
>> discourse.
>> But nowadays it seems to be used unironically (perhaps due to a lack
>> of
>> recognition of the previous generation's irony?).
>> --Ben Zimmer
> It strikes me that "all seriousness aside", uttered with real or mock
> seriousness, will tend to be processed as if it had been "in all
> seriousness" and/or "all joking aside" rather than compositionally.
> At least I suspect it may have begun this way (as an intentional
> ironic blend) that the comedian "put over" on the audience.  And then
> we get the shift Ben mentions, where it becomes a fixed expression in
> which irony is no longer necessary (related to, but not identical
> with, what arguably occurred with the aforementioned "could care
> less").
> L

FWIW, I first heard "I could care less" in 1959, when I was in the
Army. It was the first day of basic training and the speaker was the
barracks sergeant, a black Puerto-Rican with a very thick - or is it
"heavy"? - Spanish accent. So, I figured that he had made a simple,
non-native-speaker's mistake. However, I soon discovered that this
locution was used *throughout* the Army, both here and overseas, by
soldiers of all ethnic and racial backgrounds, regardless of rank.
Well, at least up to the rank of brigadier general. I never so much as
laid eyes on anyone of higher rank. It was stereotypical to the point
of being jargon. *Nobody anywhere* used "I _couldn't_ care less" under
*any* circumstances. And it was already in everyday use at every post
that I was assigned to before I got there, as ubiquitous as "GI."

So, I figure that, whatever its origin, it had been in use in the
military probably for several years prior to 1959, if anyone cares.


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