24

The title is pretty self-explanatory, but let me give some detail.

I'm a native English speaker from the USA. I know exactly what that statement means and how to use it. I heard my Pastor use it recently in a sermon, and it got me thinking how one would respond to the charge:

Person 1: "That happened, and you don't give a rip!"

Person 2: "Yes, I do!"

Ok, so that makes sense. But without the initial statement to which you can respond, how would you indicate the opposite of:

"I don't give a rip?"

Obviously, there's the straightforward:

"I do care"

But can one say this?

"I give a rip!"

I don't think I've ever heard that except as a direct response to not giving a rip.

Which brings me back to my question:

In this context, what's a rip and how does one give it, anyway?

  • 1
    I would not use "I give a rip!". In my AmE dialect, "rip" has a sense of worthlessness that makes it not an exact synonym with "I give a damn!". I don't give a rip what the bloggers say, I'm the only person around here who gives a damn about it. You could substitute many other words for "damn" to avoid swearing - hoot and shake are some alternatives. It loses some emphasis though - I would typically just say "I'm the only one that cares about it." instead of substituting a euphemism. – ColleenV Feb 9 '15 at 15:34
  • @ColleenV I agree with you, except in the immediate context of replying to the charge of "not giving a rip". In that case, replying "Yes, I do!" has the implicit connotation of "giving a rip". Thus, my question. ;-) – mbm29414 Feb 9 '15 at 18:12
  • You wouldn't say "I give a rip!" though. I think most folks would say "I do care!" or "Yes I do!", as you've mentioned, and not repeat the "rip". – ColleenV Feb 9 '15 at 18:28
  • 1
    @ColleenV Probably, but I could see someone responding (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) with, "Yes, I do give a rip!" Unlikely and uncommon, for sure, but still, I'd know what they mean. – mbm29414 Feb 9 '15 at 18:35
  • 3
    Though I like Piper's answer below, I also note that one can "rip a fart," which is what I always assumed a "rip" referred to. – Jason Patterson Feb 9 '15 at 23:41
26

I think in this context "a rip" is simply a euphemism, a more socially acceptable version of a stronger swear word. One can, after all, give or not give:
-a damn
-a darn
-a good goddamn
-a fuck (possibly even a flying fuck)
-a shit (or two shits)
-a hoot (or even a hoot in hell)
-a tinker's damn/dam
-a pair of dingo's kidneys
or many, many other things. Many of them would probably not be said by a pastor giving a sermon! So to give the same sense, but in a less offensive manner, you can choose another word, and "a rip" happens to be one of the idiomatic choices that appears to stem from a general association of "rip" with worthlessness.

  • 1
    The article in the link is very interesting. It might be helpful if you mentioned your dialect - I haven't heard "dingo's kidneys" before. – ColleenV Feb 9 '15 at 15:39
  • 5
    @ColleenV - I am from New York City, but I think "dingo's kidneys" was coined by Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy fame, and has since escaped into wider usage. – stangdon Feb 9 '15 at 16:26
  • @stangdon I think this is probably the best answer I can get, but your answer gives me more questions, like, what is "a darn" and how does one give it? So, I guess the root of the question is why/how we got away from just saying "I don't care." As I mentioned, I'm a native AmE speaker, so I'm fluent in their usage, but I still wonder sometimes... Anyway, accepted! – mbm29414 Feb 9 '15 at 18:21
  • 3
    @mbm29414 I wonder if this question would be better on ELU. Idioms can evolve to be so far removed from their original meanings that it's impossible to make literal sense of them anymore. – ColleenV Feb 9 '15 at 18:58
  • 2
    @ColleenV Now I'm chagrined! I got to this site via the "Hot Network Questions" from StackOverflow and didn't look closely enough! Whoops! Then again, the original question is probably helpful to a non-native speaker who is confused by the idiom. – mbm29414 Feb 9 '15 at 19:04
11

According to Etymology Online:

rip (n.2)

"thing of little value," 1815, earlier "inferior or worn-out horse" (1778), perhaps altered from slang rep (1747) "man of loose character; vicious, reckless and worthless person," which itself is perhaps short for reprobate (n.).

Which seems logical enough.

5

I've not heard this particular usage before, but I suspect it's US rural/dialectal. There are many versions of "I don't give a fig/damn/toss/monkey's/rat's arse/etc.", where the primary "meaning" is that the thing you don't "give" is something worthless/inconsequential. So here it could be OED's definition #2...

rip - A handful of the stalks of unthreshed grain or hay, esp. as a decoration or sample; (also) a single stalk of this kind

...or (given that the above is primarily Scottish/Irish), perhaps it's more likely to be definition #6...

rip - A worthless or worn-out horse; one that is of inferior quality. Also occas. applied to cattle.

Of course, any individual speaker may have no idea exactly what he's "not giving" - he may simply think of it as a meaningless euphemism standing in for one of the more common profane alternatives.


Unless there's a somewhat contrived context contrasting negated/non-negated usages ("He doesn't give a damn about me!" - "Forget him! - I give a damn!") you wouldn't normally try to apply this idiomatic usage to non-negated contexts.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.