without a care in the world

Today, Zippy takes on idiomaticity and is unsettled:

This is about one of the two nouns care. Just to get it out of the way, here’s the other one, from NOAD:

1 the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something: the care of the elderly | the child is safe in the care of her grandparentshealth care.

idiom take care of 1 keep (someone or something) safe and provided for: I can take care of myself. 2 deal with (something): he has the tools to take care of the electrical problem.

The occurrences of care in the cartoon are from a cluster of related senses; from NOAD:

2 [a] serious attention or consideration applied to doing something correctly or to avoid damage or risk: he planned his departure with great care. [b] an object of concern or attention: the cares of family life. [c] a feeling of or occasion for anxiety: she was driving along without a care in the world.

[related adjectives: careful, careless, carefree]

idiom take care: 1 [often in imperative] [a] be cautious [i.e., be careful]; keep oneself safe: take care if you’re planning to go out tonight. [b] said to someone on leaving them: take care, see you soon. 2 [with infinitive] make sure of doing something: he would take care to provide himself with an escape clause.

In the main entry for care-2, [a] is M (mass), [b] and [c] C (count); [a] vs. [b]/[c]  have different syntax, as you can see in the examples: with great care in [a] (sg. with no article); the cares in [b] (pl.); without a care in [c] (with sg. indef. art. a).

[c] is the use in the first panel of the cartoon, in without a care in the world — exactly the phrase in NOAD‘s example. It appears that the ‘feeling of anxiety’ use is quite restricted, to a family of idioms of which without a care in the world, with not a care in the world, have no care in the world, and haven’t a care in the world are central examples.

Simple examples like with no care, have no care, haven’t a care, and even more, have a care, have several cares, etc. are hard to interpret without a context. Zippy’s I suddenly have a care ‘I suddenly have a concern / worry’ in the last panel is odd, and would be much odder if the first panel hadn’t supplied the full without a care in the world.

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