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What Do You Care What Other People Think?

This is the title of a Richard Feynman's book. Is this grammatical? Does the verb "care" take two objects (the first and the second "what")? Then, what does it mean?

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There are writers, good writers and great writers. Great writers like Richard Feynman sometimes take liberties with grammar, yet produce something that communicates more effectively than a strictly grammatical sentence.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, one usage of the verb care is to follow it with a question-word:

I don't care what you think.

So far, so good, but there is an expression "What do you care?", which is explained in the answer to this question, and this expression as a whole is the core of the sentence, not the verb care.

In the title of Feynman's book, the first what is indeed the grammatical object of care: but it's not the semantic object. "What do you care" really means "you should not care". Feynman tacks on "what other people think" as the semantic object of "you should not care"... and gets away with it.

It is a tribute to Feynman that if you do a google books search for "what do you care what", there are hundreds of hits, and most of them are references to Feynman's book.

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It is a case of ellipsis: "What Do You Care [about] What Other People Think?"

It is common to drop "about" when using "to care" like this.

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  • Could you give me some examples of dropping "about" when using "to care"? – Aki Aug 2 '18 at 13:45
  • @Aki "I don't care what you think!" "He doesn't care what you have to say." "She doesn't care how I feel." etc. – Riley Scott Jacob Aug 2 '18 at 13:47
  • @RileyJacob your examples have one "what", whereas the OP's question has two "what"s. – JavaLatte Aug 15 '18 at 14:05

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