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I am writing a poem for school. The verse with the word I need to change is this:

7 hours is too long
In much too short a day
You really don’t care if you get an answer wrong
Because you don’t care a _____ about radioactive decay

The only thing I can think of is the word shit, but that word is too offensive. I have tried looking for inoffensive alternatives at Real Life English's Not so Offensive Alternatives to Bad Words in English, and wordhippo but these alternatives do not sound great, especially in a poem.

I also searched for don't care a ___ on the free dictionary by Farlex's idioms website and "don't care a fig" came up, alongside some other suggestions I tried from the autofill suggestions. Most worked literally, but I am looking for a more clever and poetic word or words that could be used in a way that relates to my poem. I am not just looking for any old answer. I do not want you to simply search for "don't care a…" on google. I want suggestions that fit creatively into my poem.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Yoichi Oishi Feb 18 '18 at 2:41
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    @TarynLambert We don't actually handle all questions regarding English: There are other reasons a question may be closed. Edwin Ashworth made a somewhat compelling case that this question was too simple to answer, according to our usual standards: Searching for keywords in your context leads directly to the idiom entry in the accepted answer. He may've used a custom close reason, instead of the more typical please include the research… closure reason – Tonepoet Feb 22 '18 at 3:24
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    for a more clever and poetic word or words that could be used in a way that relates to my poem." takes this into the realm of writing advice, which is categorically off-topic on ELU. Writers SE is the place for such questions. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 22 '18 at 9:01
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    As explained in the links I provided, when a word request attracts a long list of ideas, that is a red flag that either the criteria are unclear or the question is more of a poll or request for a list of things, neither of which are a good fit for the Stack Exchange model. This question suffers from both problems. The question asks for "suggestions that fit creatively into your poem". That is a request for a list of things, and hides the criteria for usefulness (do they "fit creatively into your poem") in the mind of the asker. As a result the question has attracted 22 answers so far. – MetaEd Feb 23 '18 at 15:50
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    If the question were open, I'd write an answer that said "I don't give a quack about radioactive decay." Anyone reading quack would know that you think talk about radioactive decay is boring, meaningless quack, quack, quack. Those who know a bit about radioactive decay might suspect that you are punning on the word quark. Neutrons and protons are composed of quarks; radioactive decay IS the decay of neutrons to protons and the decay of protons to neutrons. You either know nothing about radioactive decay, or you know know enough to make a clever pun about elementary particle physics. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Feb 24 '18 at 5:40

19 Answers 19

88

One option for a word is whit1 :

the smallest part or particle imaginable

Don't care a whit2 is even an idiomatic phrase:

didn't care at all.
Sally thought Joe liked her, but he didn't care a whit about her.
I don't care a whit what you do with my old clothes.


1 Webster's Third New International Dictionary s.v. whit2
2 The McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs s.v. didn't care a whit

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Feb 18 '18 at 16:49
70

How about 'don't care a bit' it rhymes with your sh... word.

Here's a link to 'not a bit'; 'I don't care a bit' is also idiomatic.

https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/not+one+bit

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Feb 18 '18 at 16:52
42

A traditional expression for this is don't give/care a fig. Cambridge Dictionaries says it's old-fashioned, but I think the meaning should still be clear in context even for folks who haven't heard it. I would recommend using the don't give a fig form for maximum impact.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Feb 18 '18 at 16:52
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Jot

"Because you don’t care a jot about radioactive decay."

This may be UK only usage though. Not sure.

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/jot:

noun

  1. the least part of something; a little bit: I don't care a jot.

Idioms

  1. not a jot or tittle, not a bit; not at all: The world situation matters not a jot or tittle to him.
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Feb 18 '18 at 16:53
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lick

I've definitely heard "don't care a lick about [something]", it's a folksy Huckleberry Finn kind of thing to say.

Among the various listings in dictionary.com:

lick

[...]

noun

[...]

  1. Informal.

[...]

a small amount: I haven't done a lick of work all week.

12

t all

because you don’t care at all about radioactive decay

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Feb 18 '18 at 16:53
10

I’m not sure that the purpose of this list is collective poetry writing, but while this question is live I suggest that many of the other entries — including the accepted one — could be improved upon. Either they are trying to rhyme something with ‘shit’ (why?) and/or using rather unfamiliar or academic expressions (whit?). The problem seems to me to be sticking with ‘care’, and that is probably why the poster has writer’s block. But there is no reason whatever to do this, and the repetition of ‘care’ is best avoided. (If one wants to make poetic use of repetition I would say three times is the minimum to make the point.)

In my opinion, all that is needed is a single-syllable verb. So I suggest

don’t give a damn

See the Cambridge dictionary online, for a definition. It is more forceful than some of the other suggestions, yet I cannot imagine that many people in the twenty-first century would regard ‘damn’ as offensive. The famous use of this phrase in the mid twentieth century (which is what makes it seem familiar to many) provoked no protests outside cinemas.

May I gently point out that in written English it is not customary to start a sentence with a numeral and in any case one generally writes numerals 1–10 in in full — ‘seven’, not 7. Also ‘the answer’ would probably be better than ‘an answer’. It has more force as indicating the single thing that is required. But that line has too many syllables anyway and seems clumsy. “You really don’t care if your answer is wrong” would be better.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Feb 18 '18 at 16:50
10

Many words will work here. Practically any word that indicates a small amount will convey the sense you're looking for:

  • you don't care a bit...
  • you don't care a smidgen...
  • you don't care an ounce...
  • you don't care an iota...
  • you don't care a pittance...
  • you don't care a speck...
  • you don't care a trifle...
  • you don't care a whiff...
  • you don't care a whisper...
  • you don't care a drop...
  • you don't care a dash...
  • you don't care a dab...
  • you don't care a morsel...
  • you don't care a shard...
  • you don't care a shaving...
  • you don't care a tad...
  • you don't care a shred...
  • etc.

Considering the context, I would probably go with the word atom here.

Because you don’t care an atom about radioactive decay

  • nor care a 'mu particle' – lbf Feb 22 '18 at 3:24
6

In American English, regardless of the word, but especially for shit and other options, don't care a ____ is not natural and would be better said, don't give a ____. Here, the words flip and rip are commonly used in this context.

To use don't care a ____, you can use don't care a bit or don't care at all.

To use something similar to don't care a ____, just use don't care

Because you don’t care about radioactive decay

4

If you're specifically trying to imply that you're substituting for "shit", you could use "stink". It's sort-of alliterative, and the literal meaning of the substitute alludes to a literal meaning of the intended.

4

A couple options I haven't seen mentioned yet: "don't give a hoot" or "don't give a rip."

There's also "don't give two shakes"--although apparently that's a shortening of a phrase involving a rat's posterior, so it may not qualify as "non-vulgar."

4

IMHO, the best suggestion ("bit") has already been given. Still, just as a curiosity, I would add not care or give a hang. Never heard it? A Google n-gram shows it was once relatively common on both sides of the Atlantic. (from the 30's through the 50's)

  • Because you don’t care a hang about radioactive decay

give/care a hang - to be concerned or anxious: I don't give a hang what you do. - TFD

not care or give a hang - not care at all

  • ‘Believe me, you have no cause to be jealous; she does not care a hang about me.’

  • ‘She didn't give a hang if I was clean or dirty.’

  • ‘When a man is dying, he doesn't give a hang about social betterment.’

  • ‘I don't care a hang for reputation.’

  • ‘As an atheist I don't give a hang if the Catholic church destroys itself tomorrow.’ EOD

care a hang - show no concern or interest; always used in the negative Synonyms: give a damn, give a hang, give a hoot. VD

care a hang (usually used with a negative) slang, a damn. 'I don't care a hang for what you say'. Collins

  • 4
    Never heard this. Where is it used? – AbraCadaver Feb 15 '18 at 2:11
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    I am middle-aged :-) Lived in Illinois, Maryland and Texas and traveled a lot, still never heard it... – AbraCadaver Feb 15 '18 at 19:06
  • give a hang was heavily used in comic books in the 80s to avoid using using damn or the f-bomb. It was curiously strong when emphasized with comic lettering. – Dex Stakker Mar 2 '18 at 20:11
3

I would consider changing the multi-word phrase to "couldn't care less". The number of syllables and beat is similar.

7 hours is too long
In much too short a day
You really don’t care if you get an answer wrong
Because you couldn't care less about radioactive decay
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    This doesn't fit the meter. Remember, it's a poem. – Barmar Feb 14 '18 at 20:04
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    I guess I didn't understand the rhyming requirements of the original. The endings of the four lines are unchanged, and replacing "don't give a -blank-" with "couldn't care less" seems to be compatible if you enunciate the "n't" syllable in "couldn't". – X Goodrich Feb 14 '18 at 20:33
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    @Barmar This scans the same as the original in terms of feet—if this doesn’t fit the metre (and it doesn’t entirely, but it can be squeezed in), the original doesn’t either. I don’t really think the difference between – u – – and – – u – in the unaccented middle of the line really makes any difference for the scansion. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 14 '18 at 22:50
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7 hours is too long

In much too short a day

You really don’t care if you get an answer wrong

Because you don’t care an atom about radioactive decay

I think atom is poetic, because it refers to the subject not cared about: radioactive decay; while expressing how little you care about it.

An atom is the smallest constituent unit of ordinary matter that has the properties of a chemical element...Atoms are very small... (Wikipedia)

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    "Because you don’t care an atom about radioactive decay" doesn't work rhythmically with the preceding lines though. – camden_kid Feb 22 '18 at 13:12
  • It works if you take poetic license. Irregular rhythms are not strictly forbidden, despite the fact that some people dislike them. – Bread Feb 22 '18 at 13:15
3

Well, if it was me I'd change the poem slightly to make a pun on "radioactive decay" (a.k.a. fission). I'd also cut the last two lines down A LOT so they scan better:

Seven hours is much too long
In much too short a day
You never get much of a frisson
From nuclear decay

Well, toy with it, toy with it... :-)

2

How about "Don't care a quark" ? It doesn't work literally, but it does poetically.

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    "You don't give a simultaneously dead and alive cat in a box about radioactive decay but the cat sure did"? – MikeTheLiar Feb 14 '18 at 17:45
2

I've got another idea, which is 'I don't give a schnit-zel!' This could be quite funny, especially if you pause, after 'schnit!' contracting that syllable a bit so it's a short sound, and then making 'zel'! a little bit longer than normal.

It will sound like 'shit' and for a moment people might think that, until the second syllable makes them realise that you are referring to a breaded and fried meat 'burger'.

2

don't care by half

Considering it is poetry, you could twist a word to your will and need, and use a contextual phrase like "don't care A half" or "don't care ONE half" or "don't care BY half" seeing as the subject is radioactive-decay which would be measured in half-lives.

2

I apologize that this isn't actually an answer, but the comment section is too limiting and I believe the explanation is valuable.

You're doing something very common in every language. You're making a comparison or a judgement. There are a great many ways to do this, but the grammar should be consistent.

Don't give a...

This form of the comparison is comparing the reference object (in your case, radioactive decay) to a referent object. I apologize that I don't use coarse language, so let's use a phrase popular in my family, "hill of beans."

I don't give a hill of beans about that!

An astute observer would point out that the market value of a hill of beans could potentially be quite high. The reason "hill of beans" is used is that, historically, beans are a cheap source of food. However, there's a very long story behind this that isn't approrpriate to go into here. So, please help me out by accepting the idea that a hill of beans has little perceived value in the context of the phrase. Thanks!

This is the form of comparison you should use were you to continue to use the expletive. The article "a" invites you to use a physical, countable object. You could convert the phrase to use the article "the" as in "I don't give the vastness of outer space!" but the phrase can quickly become awkward and the comparison unclear (outer space is basically empty and therefore has not value... yuck). I believe this version of the comparison is best understood when using physical, low-value objects.

Don't care a...

This version of the comparison does not compare the reference to a physical referent. In its simplest form, the referent is a trivially small measurement of the verb "to care." This is why words like "bit" and "whit" work so well with it. For example, "bit" is (among many other things) a "small quantity of something." You could less eloquently say, "because you don't care about radioactive decay" and obtain the same meaning.

It's worth noting that you have as much flexibility with this form as you do the other, because you can make the comparison against any human virtue. Care, love, hope, even hate.

I don't love you even the tiniest bit!

It's all about Emphasis

Why do we use comparative phrases like these? Because humans love emphasizing things — both positively and negatively. "I don't care a bit" has the same basic meaning as "I don't care," but it's lacking the emphasis "a bit" lends to the statement. The added phrase brings no additional clarity to the basic meaning of the statement. It only makes an attempt to express the extent of your emotional state at the time the statement was made. You don't care either way, but in one instance you look calm and peaceful and in the other you're huffing with veins popping out on your head. :-)

Conclusion

So, remember that you "don't give a [low-value physical object]" and you "don't care a [trivially small measurement]." Whichever you choose will work fine in your poem.

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