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I could care less

Posted by Smokey Stover on March 29, 2008 at 19:59:

In Reply to: I could care less posted by R. Berg on March 28, 2008 at 17:10:

: : : : : : : I could care less. This is not incorrect English - It is irony! All of the 'hypercorrect' usage self-proclaimed experts seem unaware of the different ways points can be made.

: : : : : : Irony? Well, maybe occasionally. Whenever I've heard 'I could care less' used it was by people who only used irony to describe iron bars.

: : : : : "The 'hypercorrect' usage self-proclaimed experts seem unaware...": I see. And *your* credentials as a usage expert are...? ~rb

: : : : My credentials as a usage expert are pretty much nil, but nonetheless I think someone ought at least to comment on, even if only to demolish, Smokey Stover's explanation of "I could care less."

: : : : Some of you are doubtless familiar with Valleyspeak, or Valspeak, as the Wikipedia puts it, allegedly spoken in the San Fernando Valley in the last two decades of the last century. The "Valley," as it is often called for the sake of brevity, is in Los Angeles County, near Hollywood, a place of high prices and Hollywood types who can afford to live there--writers, producers, executives, whoever makes good enough money.

: : : : Although you wouldn't guess it from the kind of movies these people make, they are pretty high-IQ people, and so are their children. So you can bet that they are not language-impaired. But they do like their slang, and it includes a lot of ellipsis. Have you seen the movie, "Valley Girl" ? It gave rise to the term Valleyspeak. One of the best-known elliptical sentences is "As if!" It means, of course, "As though that could be true," "that" depending on the referent that precedes it.

: : : : My contention is based on ellipsis. A sentence that I imagine you've heard is, "I couldn't care less." How did that become, "I could care less"? Is it because these highly intelligent teenagers dropped the "not" without realizing it? I imagine that it's another case of ellipsis, a short form of, "As though I could care less!" It has to be spoken a certain way, of course. Valleyspeak requires some very distinctive use of pitch and prolongation to make its points with the proper emphasis.

: : : : There's a good, though all too brief, article in the Wikipedia which also mentions the influence of surfer speak and skateboard speak. It also mentions the important "documentation" to be found in "Clueless" and "Wayne's World."

: : : :

: : The 1982 Frank Zappa song "Valley Girl" (his only Top 40 hit in the US and featuring his daughter Moon Unit Zappa) popularized the term (and valspeak) prior to the 1983 movie.

: "I could care less" was common before the 1980s. Valspeak can't get credit as its originator. ~rb

It would be nice to be able to get to the bottom of this, although the origin may be elusive. Valspeak, to be sure, is supposed to date only from the 1970s, and is probably hard to document from written sources. I would seriously like to know whether the sentence, "I couldn't care less," can or cannot be found earlier than "I could care less," regardless of which mouth or pen first gave it utterance. Obviously valley girls are not the only English speakers to use ellipsis. But just as a starting point, do you, rb, or does anyone else, have dates before 1970 for either sentence? That's not a challenge; curious minds want to know, that's all.