In my last post puzzling over even ("What does 'even' even mean?", 2/8/2011), I suggested that there's a new even idiom, exemplified in phrases like "How does that even work?" or "What does that even mean?", in which even has become simply an intensifier rather than a scalar focus particle. If this is true, it would be a rebirth of even's pre-16th-century use as (in the OED's gloss) "an intensive or emphatic particle" that can be "prefixed to a subject, object, or predicate, or to the expression of a qualifying circumstance, to emphasize its identity". However, the 94 helpful comments on that post left me wondering whether this is really happening.
So here's another even example that brought me up short — Michael Hinkelman, "Feds unveil 50-count indictment against 'Uncle Joe,' 12 others", Philadelpha Daily News 5/24/2011:
But Joseph C. Santaguida, Ligambi's attorney, said the reputed mob boss, who pleaded not guilty to all charges and has a bail hearing Thursday, claimed that the feds' case was "weak."
Asked if Ligambi, dressed in a white polo shirt and jeans, was the mob boss portrayed by prosecutors, the defense attorney said: "I don't know if [prosecutors] can even prove that. I don't think it's that strong a case."
I'm not going to go over the standard treatment of even as a scalar focus particle, and its interaction with questions and negation — you can read the earlier post or (for a more complete and technical treatment) see e.g. Anastasia Giannakidou, "The landscape of EVEN", NLLT 25:39-81, 2007. But I'll give what I hope will be a helpful example for comparison, one where the scale involved is simply numerical. Consider someone discussing a basketball player's listed height:
I don't know if he's even 6′ tall, much less 6′4″.
??I don't know if he's even 6′ tall, much less 5′8″.
As far as I can tell, Mr. Santaguida's comment similarly goes in the wrong scalar direction. What's provably true, it seems to me, is higher on the relevant implied scale than what's true:
I don't know if that's even true, much less provable.
??I don't know if that's even provable, much less true.
Of course, it's possible that a different focus-conditioned scope for even was missed in the quote's transcription:
I don't know if [prosecutors] can even prove THAT [much less the other, more specific charges].