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I could care less

Posted by R. Berg on November 17, 2005

In Reply to: I could care less posted by Smokey Stover on November 17, 2005

: : : : : : : : I heard Dr Phil (Frazier Crane on TV) use the expression "could care less" when in fact he means "couldn't care less". Although the two expressions are logical opposites, I quite often see them used interchangeably in Internet forums. My question is, if you find this to be an error, or if it is actually legitimate to say, as Dr Phil did: "She could care less about what you think" when you mean "she does not care (at all) what you think"?

: : : : : : : It's legitimate as long as your audience understands that you mean "couldn't care less" when you actually say the opposite. This is really the same as using a double negative like "We ain't got no bananas" to mean "We have no bananas". There are some who will point out the technical inaccuracy.

: : : : : : I find it to be an error, not just a technical inaccuracy. "I could care less" was discussed recently in a "pet peeves" thread on a forum for writers and editors. It was around in casual speech (not speech or writing where standard English is expected) before the Internet.

: : : : : Thank you for your comments. Ms Berg, I didn't mean to suggest that the expression was somehow particularly linked to the Internet, in terms of origin or otherwise. Clearly, the two expressions are phonetically related and the alternative must have come about as a spoken derivative. When I heard Dr Phil say this on TV today, I thought to myself: How can he talk like that and pass himself off as a doctor. But then I thought: Wait, this may be too harsh.

: : : : We can hope that Dr. Phil is consciously dumbing down his speech for his television audience. Perhaps he is avoiding big words and such, to avoid scaring off viewers whom he is legitimately trying to help. It's the same as a pediatrician wearing a smock with teddy bears on it.

: : : Hi Brian
: : : Yes, that might be :-)

: : Stop me if I've told this one. A woman had a misunderstanding with a new boss. He would ask her to do some task and she would respond, "I don't care to." He thought she was saying she didn't want to do it. What she meant was the opposite, "I don't mind."

: : He noticed that she was doing what he asked. And eventually figured out what she was actually saying.

: My fellow phraseheads must be really tired of hearing me say this, but "I could care less" is not an error, and is not even ungrammatical if you understand the meaning. It's not easy to trace the exact origina of a slang expression, but this one sounds like California youth speaking. And California youth, like all other, likes to be different, and in this case, elliptical. Do you remember the expression "As if!" Do you think it ungrammatical or incorrect? (It even made it into the OED, badly explained.) Try a little ellipsis. Say, "As though I could care less!" Then remove the first two words. Of course, grownups, misunderstanding the origin of the expression, have used it incorrectly at times, placing it in contexts where the original phrase could not be used. On the other hand, just forget everything I have said. One reason young people like using slang of their own is that it's so hard for adults to understand them. So just continue to think what you want to think, and the slang has served its purpose. SS

Smokey, I'll confess I'm skeptical. I've never seen that explanation of "I could care less" before. "I could care less" was current when *I* was a young person, long before "As if!" came around. It didn't seem then that the phrase was short for "As though I could care less!"