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"never mind"

Posted by R. Berg on November 14, 2001

In Reply to: "Never mind" posted by H.M. Dawson on November 14, 2001

: Why do we say "never mind" when we really mean "don't mind in just this one instance"? Was "never mind" the start of an old phrase, something like "never mind an old fool", or something to that effect?

: H.M.D.

Interesting question. The definition of "never" in sense 1 in the Oxford Engl. Dict. is "At no time, on no occasion." This is the definition for sense 2:
"Not at all, in no way. In later use chiefly with imperatives, esp. 'never [you] fear' or 'mind.' in some cases the temporal sense is not completely effaced."

Some of the OED's examples for sense 2:
1605 SHAKS. Macbeth "Neuer shake thy goary lockes at me."
1774 FOOTE Cozeners "I take care, Missy, never you fear."
1825 BENTHAM Offic. Apt. Maximized, Indications "Never you mind that; your business is to make sure of the fees."
1875 JOWETT Plato "Give your opinion . . . , never minding whether Critias or Socrates is the person refuted."

These examples point to an origin in "Never mind that" rather than "Never mind me"--but a more emphatic "never mind" than we have today; the phrase has apparently lost some of its former oomph. "Never" has other uses that are not very temporal, such as "She had never a care for what the townsfolk might think."