Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Crazy things that you can't stop thinking about

Hubhub and I have been having an ongoing "discussion" about the phrase "I could care less". I first heard this phrase when I was at school in Denton. It took me hearing it in context a few times before I came to understand that it is supposed to mean "I couldn't care less". I attributed it to being a Texas thing. I feel strongly that the correct usage is "I couldn't care less". Hubhub feels strongly for "I could care less". It's really keeping us going over here.

Ever since I read that book by Lynne Truss, I have become super sensitive about word usage, grammar, and of course punctution.

Excuse me, while I pause to accept the award for dullest blogger, evah. Thank you.

Back to the argue-er-discussion. So I googled the phrase to see what I would find of course: couldn't care less

I found this lovely gem from Dictionary.com:

Which is correct: I could care less or I couldn't care less?

The expression I could not care less originally meant 'it would be impossible for me to care less than I do because I do not care at all'. It was originally a British saying and came to the US in the 1950s. It is senseless to transform it into the now-common I could care less. If you could care less, that means you care at least a little. The original is quite sarcastic and the other form is clearly nonsense. The inverted form I could care less was coined in the US and is found only here, recorded in print by 1966. The question is, something caused the negative to vanish even while the original form of the expression was still very much in vogue and available for comparison - so what was it? There are other American English expressions that have a similar sarcastic inversion of an apparent sense, such as Tell me about it!, which usually means 'Don't tell me about it, because I know all about it already'. The Yiddish I should be so lucky!, in which the real sense is often 'I have no hope of being so lucky', has a similar stress pattern with the same sarcastic inversion of meaning as does I could care less.

And there you have it. It boils down to the British version vs. the American version. It's a running theme in this household!


Blogger tammara said...

It is NOT a Texas thing (please oh please don't say that), it's a no common sense, inability to understand sarcasm thing. The argument from Dictionary.com is dead on. "I could care less" takes the smart aleck completely out of the phrase, and then what's the point?!? The correct phrase is clearly "I couldn't care less."

To back you up further, I'll refer you to Chapter IV, "Words and Expressions Commonly Misused" in The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White (otherwise known as the writer's bible):

Care less. The dismissive "I couldn't care less" is often used with the shortened "not" mistakenly (and mysteriously) omitted: "I could care less." The error destroys the meaning of the sentence and is careless indeed.

2:34 PM  
Blogger singaporegrrl said...

Thank you, sistah! I apologize for attributing it to being a "Texas thing". You are so right!

10:07 PM  
Blogger Lawfrog said...

I agree with tammara. This argument is along the same lines as the regardless vs. irregardless thing.

Additionally, since we're on the topic of grammar, there is no such word as towards. No matter how you use the word, it is always toward.

Now, I'll be accepting my award for dullest commenter ever.

6:24 PM  

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