Grammar Gripes: Could Care Less

I don’t know why this is a problem. Can someone explain to me why anyone would ever say “Could care less”? I really don’t understand where this phrase originated, since we have the perfectly clear, sensical, and logical “Couldn’t care less” to do the exact same job.

I know there is no law that says languages, especially English, have to be logical. But come on, it’s so easy to see: if you “could care less,” than you care at least a little to begin with, meaning that you care. But you’re trying to say that you don’t care, so why would you say that you care? Enter “couldn’t care less,” which clearly is better, saying, “I couldn’t care less because I don’t care at all.”

So in summary: “couldn’t care less” is better, and I didn’t understand “could care less.”

But then, like the good English teacher’s pet I am, I did some research.

Not as cute as this pet, though.

I’m not as cute as this pet, though.

While I started out thinking I could write a blog post just complaining about people saying “could care less,” I found a lot of others have already done that, like Grammar Girl and David Mitchell and William Safire. You can only view the Safire article if you are a NY Times subscriber, which I am not. Curse you, paywalls! But he is quoted here.

Some people actually agree with the use of could care less, like Arika Okrent at Slate, although I think we can all agree that she is obviously wrong. (even if there is allegedly no such thing as wrong, linguistically. I officially decree that that is also wrong.)

And then I stumbled on this gem. Ben Zimmer, the author, has researched the origins of the terms by searching the New York Times archives, and has made a chart detailing the frequency of usage of the two terms. Ben Zimmer, you are my hero. How do I get your job?

This is a work of art.

This is a work of art. (visualthesaurus)

Zimmer finds that the term “couldn’t care less” was coined about ten years before “could care less.” (1944 vs. 1955). So older is better?

And then I found this, in which Dictionary.com basically makes the linguistic case for sarcasm in the creation of “could care less,” saying that it came from Yiddish humor, which I guess is known for its sarcasm.

However, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard “could care less” used sarcastically, so that argument doesn’t work with the modern usage in my experience. But maybe everyone I know is too serious for sarcasm.

Super serious.

Super serious.

At any rate, the issue has been well-discussed, but I’ll add my voice to the masses anyway to say: Don’t say you could care less, if only because it annoys the crap out of me. But when has anyone ever refrained from doing something because it annoys a random person complaining on the internet? (The answer is “absolutely never”)

So do what you want, but “could care less” just sounds so wrong.

But this cat photo just feels so right.

But this cat photo just feels so right.

Do you have any grammar gripes that I should rant about? Lemme know in the comments. Also, feel free to tear apart the grammar errors in this post. Because why do my own proofreading when I could get other people to do it for me?

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2 thoughts on “Grammar Gripes: Could Care Less

  1. I actually heard this earlier today, in an interesting and correct (I do believe anyway) manner. Phrased as follows, “…it’s not exactly a big deal, but I could care less.”

    Thoughts?

    • So that is to say that they know it’s not that terrible, but they do still care? Yes, okay. I’ll give you that one. But I still feel like there’s a better way to say that that makes me feel less icky.

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