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syz's avatar

Why do so many people get the phrase "I couldn't care less" wrong?

Asked by syz (33588 points ) October 16th, 2007

I hear it all the time – “I could care less”. It makes no sense. It’s the antithesis of what they mean to say! How has this become so widespread?

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34 Answers

gsiener's avatar

I can’t stand the related either: I could give two sh*ts…

GD_Kimble's avatar

It’s all part of the continual unravelling of the English languge.

Fallstand's avatar

So many phrases we say are kind of funny.. but especially when this once made sense

gailcalled's avatar

And, respectfully, why not say “funny.” rather than “kind of funny”? That is a new and meaningless appendage added to kind of everything these days.

gailcalled's avatar

?” (sorry, Bob and Kev)

GD_Kimble's avatar

that should say “language”. I’m a terrible typist.

bob's avatar

No problem, Gail, pretend you’re British.

I qualify things I say a lot, and it annoys me. I always say “I think” or “kind of” before I make assertions. This is a terrible habit.

But as for “I could care less” ... it’s a strange phrase.

You should try saying “I could care less” to mean “I do care about this”! But nobody will understand what you mean.

The only explanation for “I could care less” is that it’s sarcasm. You’re saying “I could care less,” but in a sarcastic tone, so you really mean “I couldn’t care less.” I see that argument employed around the web in defense of “I could care less,” but I don’t buy it. First, the tone of “I couldn’t care less” is already dismissive and indistinguishable from sarcasm. But second, it seems irrational to ascribe some intent to these sorts of language changes, which generally come from mishearing and misremembering words and expressions. Of course, it’s sloppy usage to say “I could care less,” but that’s never stopped anyone from speaking.

My favorite unword is “irregardless.” I’m sure linguistics experts would say that people who say “irregardless” and “I could care less” are communicating just as effectively as people who say “regardless” and “I couldn’t care less.” But it doesn’t seem irrational to use those language markers as a basis for judgment.

kevbo's avatar

I think we’re close to forming a caucus of Militant Grammarians.

My pet peeve is “have your cake and eat it, too,” which should be “eat your cake and have it, too.” However, I have no illusions about losing on that one.

Misuse of passive voice is another problem that cannot be tolerated by me.

gailcalled's avatar

@kev: Next time I am asked to check a box for religion, I might write, in the <other> blank, Militant Grammarian.

@bob; awesome exegesis, actually.

@kev:Basically, the passive voice must have some use, but generally it is kind of something up with which I will basically not put. (Thanks, Winnie.)

syz's avatar

My personal pet peeve is the gross misuse of the possessive apostrophe.

Did anyone else read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”? (Sorry, I haven’t figured out the limited Textile thing yet.)

syz's avatar

Oh, and don’t forget the redundant “close proximity”.

GD_Kimble's avatar

oh, there are a million of those… ATM machine?

gailcalled's avatar

True facts?

archer's avatar

weird plurals:
anyways. softwares. freewares.

weird pronunciations:
inless for unless. warrantee for warranty. hunderd for hundred.

it goes on and on.

this is all a result of fear of correction; fear in receiving and in giving.
ridiculous and tragic. after all, its value is indisputable.

kevbo's avatar

acrost (forgivable if your’e a bumpkin)

heighth (you should be shot)

joli's avatar

“Like, what?” The dreaded California phrase. “It’s like, I wasn’t taught to talk like this!”
Or, “Hella fun trashing other people’s grammer.”

gailcalled's avatar

And for the pedants, like I, the hoi polloi.

theabk's avatar

I have an alternate take on this topic. Language is constantly evolving and there is no original, correct version; you could go back to any point in history and find people upset about the appearance of new usages which today we consider correct. How does one even determine what correct English is? The dictionary is itself empirically based and simply reflects how people are speaking and writing.

I also think that the sense that the language is going downhill in the recent past is an illusion. The writing that survives from earlier eras is that of the most well-educated, literate people of the time, whereas in the modern era we constantly read and hear the writing and speaking of people of all levels of literacy. On the whole, this is an improvement – our society is much more literate now, in terms of the number of people who can read, than it was in the past. This means that we hear more from people who are less well-educated, but in reality the average person is probably better educated now than back in the days when we imagine everyone to have been speaking perfect, proper English.

I do find it annoying when people are just sloppy or lazy, but I think one of the reasons that English is such a rich, complex language (it’s generally estimated to have half a million words, by far the most of any language) is because it is so adaptable. The English we now speak began as an Anglo-Saxon language and was later heavily infused with Romance elements, so that it was, from the beginning, an amalgamation.

Coming back, then, to “I could care less” – it is completely backward, of course, but personally I enjoy that about it. It’s funny; it’s weird; it’s the kind of strange quirk that gives writers in English so much to work with.

bob's avatar

Wow, Gail, that is some serious pedantry.

@thabk: Yes, I mostly agree, but various types of usage are still markers for a lack of education. The average education level is better than it was 200 years ago, but maybe not better than 50 years ago (that’s why they keep dumbing down the SAT), and it’s easy to imagine a society where literacy (and facility with language) declines… it’s a complex issue. Changes in usage aren’t evidence—by themselves—for the assertion that our language (and our society) is going to hell. Changes in language are neither good nor bad. But that doesn’t mean we’re not getting dumber.

jca's avatar

convicted felon. a felon is not a felon if he’s not convicted.

trainerboy's avatar

This is one of the deepest questions I have seen on this site along with the woodchuck question.
Why do so many people mess up that statement? I am not sure what you are looking for here? Are you really going to get an accurate answer from someone who took a poll?
Not complaining, but just wondering why this is a question you would ask? I am not even worried about you answering it. Just wondering.

trainerboy's avatar

And????? Your point is????
But I do appreciate your judgment.

trainerboy's avatar

I read your rude remarks. Not sure what the point of referring it to me is?

8lightminutesaway's avatar

I remember asking this very question a couple weeks ago. People got upset because I was being “anal” about the evolving english language. Idk, it doesn’t bother me a huge deal, I just like asking people when they say wrong because they have no idea that they are…

I also knew a guy who used to say tooken instead of taken, and would write down “minus well” intead of “might as well” but I taught him otherwise.

girlofscience's avatar

It’s like all of the people who think “never mind” is one word.

MissAnthrope's avatar

Oh, how I wish the Elizabethan tradition of spelling words any old way had carried forth. I mean, how fun is it to play around and see all the weird ways you could spell something? For anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, it was considered exceedingly clever back then to spell a word in all sorts of ways. Shakespeare would spell one word different ways on the same page. There was no such thing as rigid spelling rules, hence all the very interesting versions of the English language from that period.

——————
From Shakespeare’s King Edward the Third, 1596 version:

Shee was my Lord, and onely Issabel,
Was all the daughters that this Phillip had,
Whome afterward your father tooke to wife:
And from the fragrant garden of her wombe,
Your gratious selfe the flower of Europes hope:
Deriued is inheritor to Fraunce.
But not the rancor of rebellious mindes:
When thus the lynage of Bew was out;
The French obscurd your mothers Priuiledge,
And though she were the next of blood, proclaymed
Iohn of the house of Valoys now their king:
The reason was, they say the Realme of Fraunce,
Repleat with Princes of great parentage,
Ought not admit a gouernor to rule,
Except he be discended of the male,
And thats the speciall ground of their contempt:
Wherewith they study to exclude your grace:
But they shall finde that forged ground of theirs,
To be but dusty heapes, of brittile sande.

AstroChuck's avatar

I don’t know, but I couldn’t care less.

Jeruba's avatar

Both versions of that expression became popular at just about the same time, while I was in high school, which was before the Beatles’ first U.S. tour. There was no stopping it even then. I took it to be intended as irony, but thought it was pretty dumb even at that. What amazes me is that anyone is still saying it.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I would assume that people who don’t mind their grammar are ignorant and apathetic. They don’t know and they don’t care.

My favorite, often used by the media is ‘horrible catastrophe’ My question is what other kind is there?

Eats Shoots and Leaves was one book I absolutely loved reading. The number of signs put up within my metropolitan area with a misplaced apostrophe is truly astounding. One I remember read “Welcome to Illinois, Wear your seatbelt, its’ the law.”

Oh yeah, another at the local hospital for a special parking area read “Doctor’s Parking Only” I guess the entire staff of physicians arrived in one vehicle, like a clown car.

gailcalled's avatar

@Evelyn’s: Book is Eats, Shoots and Leaves. That comma is important.) My ninth-grade English teacher used to fulminate about “true facts.”

Grammar is different from usage and punctuation, of course.

MissAnthrope's avatar

I know it’s incorrect, but it makes sense to me in a way. It’s sort of like “I couldn’t even be bothered to care.”

dice1976's avatar

I’d care less about this question, but it’s impossible.

MissA's avatar

I have enjoyed all y’alls’ comments!!

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