Vs. “I could care less.”

Posted: December 9, 2011 in Language
Tags: , , , , ,

Here’s the deal.  For some reason, many people choose to convey the idea that they could not care less about something, by saying, “I could care less.”  I assume that when these same people have suffered through a brain-numbing Pauly Shore marathon of Bio-Dome, Son in Law, and Jury Duty and can’t stand the thought of sitting through one more, say, “Anyone up for another Pauly Shore movie?”

Pauly Shore Live Stand up

Pauly Shore...after a Pauly Shore movie marathon

“I could care less,” has become such a universal phrase, that it has begun to sound like it means what people intend for it to mean (which is the opposite of its actual meaning).  Well, not the exact opposite.  I mean, what does, “I could care less,” actually mean?  It means that, to some degree I care…but it would be possible for me to care to a lesser degree.  It sounds as if the speaker is offering this as an alternative.  As if they’re saying, “If the amount that I am choosing to care is not working for you, I could lower that amount of care.”  I’m not entirely sure what situation would call for this strangely specific notion.

“Look, I’m doing my best.  It’s just that, knowing how much you care about my success, well, it puts a lot of extra pressure on me.”

“I could care….less.”

Of course, people don’t say it like this.  Rather, they utter these words with such disdain, that I think others just choose to ignore the fact that they aren’t really making any sense.

But the logical inconsistency of this phrase is only half of what bothers me.  Let’s set aside the fact that they’re not saying what they’re trying to say.  Imagine, instead, that they are saying (as some people actually do), “I couldn’t care less.”  Even this is untrue.

Whenever anyone says, “I could care less/I couldn’t care less,” what they actually mean is, “I care a great deal as evidenced by the fact that I am claiming not to care at all.”  If one couldn’t care less, there would be no reason to say so. 

The X Factor (Australia)

I'm rooting for Fox Mulder

Think about it.  Think of something about which you could actually not care less.  (And it should require some thought, because those things that easily come to mind are those things we care about).  I, for example, couldn’t care less about who wins The X Factor.  I am neither rooting for anyone, nor am I rooting against anyone.  I know that I couldn’t care less because I have never seen an episode of The X Factor.  I do not who is capable of winning.  It would be impossible for me to be less emotionally invested.  Of course, I don’t go around saying, “I couldn’t care less who wins The X Factor.”  Paradoxically, only someone who cares about the outcome would utter this phrase.

So all I’m asking of people is that they stop saying, “I could care less,” when in fact they mean, “I couldn’t care less,” and, in fact, don’t mean that either.

It’s that simple.

So, how am I going to do it?   How will I stop people from saying the opposite of what they mean despite the fact that they don’t even mean it?  It’s a tricky one.  Honestly, I could have fewer ideas…by which, of course, I mean that I couldn’t have fewer ideas…which also isn’t entirely true…because I do have a few ideas…but, by this time, the whole issue is so confusing that you could probably care less.

  1. I am SO glad you said this. Can we have this as part of our National Curriculum so children learn from an early age how best to avoid sounding stupid?

  2. Kestrel Blue says:

    I have been bugged y this for years! thats why I always say “I could’t care less”…I am so glad you did a blog on this!!!

  3. heathersnyder1 says:

    I say, “I couldn’t care less…” on occasion. Like, “I couldn’t care less if you want to shoot yourself out of a cannon.” or “I couldn’t care less if you want to wrestle that alligator…you go right ahead.”

    • Makya McBee says:

      Attractive feet – Come on, you remember being a child…there’s no way to stop them from sounding stupid…

      Kestrel – I could care less that you’re glad I did this blog (this, of course, is a compliment, as I’m saying that I care that you’re glad).

      Heather – You should always care whether or not someone is going to wrestle an alligator – it’s common courtesy.

  4. Crystal says:

    Yuck…Pauly Shore!

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