Some people, perhaps you, irritate some people, including me, by saying, “I could care less.” Y’all need to stop it. We are losing patience.
OK, so “could care less” is not a big grammar-usage sin, but it is annoying. What the folks who “could care less” mean is that they “could NOT care less.” That is, they care so very little that they could not possibly care less. Of course, the “could care less” usage is so widespread that very few of us pay much attention any more and, in truth, we know what they mean, even though the syntax is mangled.
Evan Jenkins’ Language Corner for the Columbia Journalism Review notes that about half the references one finds in an Internet search are “could care less.” Professor Paul Brians notes that cliches are susceptible to mangling, but he finds “could care less” just plain careless. And here is a transcript of a radio interview with Brians in which he talks about “could care less.”
The Mavens’ Word of the Day mounts a defense of “could care less.” The Language Log goes after those pedantic folks, like me, who find the usage annoying, and a second entry expands on the first. The short explanation is that “could care less” is sarcastic, and not meant to be literally understood.
Still, I and others of my ilk wish you’d just say “couldn’t care less.”
This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.