“Could Care Less” versus “Couldn’t Care Less”

By Maeve Maddox

My article about the loss of Thou received some comments on the use of “could care less” instead of “couldn’t care less.”

My choice to write “Shakespeare could care less” was a deliberate one. I felt that “could care less” was more euphonious than “couldn’t care less” and sounded a bit “cheekier.” I thought that by now either form of the idiom was acceptable.

How wrong can a writer be?!

So wrong that a Google search of the phrase “could care less” garners 1,930,000 hits. Some of the discussions are quite impassioned. Although the newer form of the expression meaning “not to care at all” has been widely-used for some time, many people still regard it as an uneducated error.

Paul Brians, English professor at Washington State University, points out in an interview with Avi Arditti the difficulty of dealing with idioms that are in the process of changing:

the problem is that as [a new idiom] evolves, you get caught as a user between people who are going with the new pattern and those who know the old pattern and are comfortable with it.

Cautions Brians,

some people will disapprove or think less of you if you say it [the new] way.

He concludes that speakers and writers may choose to use the newer pattern, but that they do so at a certain risk because people who are bothered by the new pattern may be in a position to hire them, or grade their papers, or reject them as social equals.

The Oxford dictionary already recognizes “could care less” as an American colloquialism. Many people, however, regard it as incorrect since it makes no logical sense (if you “could care less” it means that you care at least a bit).

What do you think about it? Have your say in our Poll! (RSS readers will need to visit the site to take the poll).

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176 Responses to ““Could Care Less” versus “Couldn’t Care Less””

  • Tom

    You should have included a forth option in the poll: “I couldn’t care less”. 🙂

  • Gwen

    Uhm, where is this poll?

    I’m one of those very passionate when people say “could care less” because it makes no sense! And I also feel a twinge of sadness that this new, contradictory form enters the dictionary. At least it is marked as “American colloquialism” meaning “SLANG”.

  • Gwen

    (Oops, now I see the poll.)

  • Stu Venable

    It drives me crazy when people say “I could care less.” I always correct them.

  • Daniel

    Tom, good point I added a fourth option in the poll!

  • Trevor

    “Couldn’t care less” is proper because it’s saying that “I could not care any less about this; I care so little about this that I cannot care any less.”

  • Rootman

    I sometimes use “Could care less” followed by an abrupt “but not by much” to indicate that while I do care somewhat, I am not far from not caring at all.

    After all if it warrants me expressing my opinion I must care SOME.

  • Daniel

    Rootman, that for sure is a nice work around 🙂 .

  • Deleyne

    This reminds me of another shortened phrase. “He graduated high school in June.” It bothers me when people leave out the ‘from.’

  • Dave

    I’m no expert, but I have always taken “could care less” to be ironic and “couldn’t care less” to be proper and direct.

  • Robert Palmar

    Lyrically I prefer to say “I could not care less”.
    It adds emphasis and clarity to the meaning of the phrase.

  • Mikael Høilund

    I agree that “could care less” rolls off the tongue easier. However, I feel this pronunciation matter should be handled by the speaker, not the writer.

    A speaker of a text always takes some liberties regarding the pronunciation of certain constructs, and when they read “couldn’t care less,” it should be up to them to pronounce it as “could care less” – not the writer’s job to write it in the first place.

    Of course, in informal text, I find this colloquialism to be totally fair; as long as the writer is aware of the correct meaning.

  • Peter Robinson

    Using “could care less” demonstrates a lack of basic understanding of the semantics of English language.

  • Ray Blake

    As a Brit,I’ve never seen the sense in the reversed American version. I tend mentailly to add some missing words: “I could care less [if I really tried, but it wouldn’t be easy given how little I care right now.]”

  • Mark Ismay

    I am also a passionate supporter of the “couldn’t care less”‘ form, and it saddens me that this is even an argument up for debate. The form “could care less” is in contradiction to the meaning in which it is used.

    In Australia, the prevalence of American media is making the “could care less” form increasingly prevalent. For my ears, the slang form is not more euphonious as I cringe as a result of it. When the situation allows, I do correct those I encounter using the incorrect form (sadly not always successfully).

  • john Ireland

    In the late 1950’s, a verbose variation on the term “I couldn’t care less” was spoken, “I suppose I could care less, but I don’t see how.” Words were dropped out over the next few years until “I could care less” was all that was left. Those too young to know the history of the saying likely cringe and think it is nonsense. Those who know its derivation mentally hear the unspoken words and accept its meaning without concern.

  • Jeremy Dalton

    If that is indeed true, John, it would make much more sense.

    To throw my opinion into the pot, though: I much prefer the use of the form ‘couldn’t care less’ both lyrically and logically.

  • john Ireland

    So do I, Jeremy. When an older person like myself says, “I could care less,” I assume they know they are using a shorthand version of the longer saying. I cringe when a younger person uses it because they don’t know why the say the opposite of what they mean.

    I doubt it will ever go away, so I can’t let it bother me anymore.

  • Aubrey Granner

    I’ve always thought of it sarcastically as in: “Like (or ‘as if) I could care less!”.

  • Jon

    I think both are acceptable. If some people are bothered, I shouldn’t care less, could’t care less, or am I simply getting careless?

  • nufin’

    I don’t find “could care less” acceptable. It’s like “I didn’t do nothing,” which is becoming acceptable too.

  • Maeve

    surfmadpig,
    I followed your link.

    Priceless!

  • surfmadpig

    John Cleese made a passionate point against “could care less” in his podcast.

  • Yanki

    hi folks, I think both are acceptable. Because if we want to put a comment on a particular thing we can do it in a negative manner also.

  • EffYou

    I hate people who say “I ku-care-less”, it sounds low class and uneducated. I think the people who say it do so because it sounds cool rolling off the tounge that way, and it’s a bit more effort to say “I couldnt care less”.

  • nicole

    I, and everyone I grew up with/around (friends/family) have always used “could care less”.

  • Janis Graham

    How about “I could care less?” and “I couldn’t care less!”

  • Ronnie

    I use the term “I Could care less!” as in
    SARCASM!!!!!
    I mean it as, “As if I could care less…” lol

  • gan yoon ming

    i dont understand the meaning of this topic well.. anyway anyone willing to teach me? i really willing to learn bout english.. because my english is lousy.. right now i enter the college.. everyone of my college friend is using english..so i need to improve my english.. please add me markgan88@hotmail.com so i need some advise from u all bout english lesson..

  • Ashley

    I agree with Gwen – EXACTLY! “I could care less” is a SLANG – that is the end of the discussion right there.
    I get sooo annoyed when someone says it, but what I’m actually thinking is, “has this person stopped to think about what he or she is trying to say? If you don’t care – which is normally what they intend to say – then how could you care less??”

  • Bastards!!

    Honestly, people who get upset by this are nit-picking. Does “I couldn’t care less” make any sense, either? No, not really. The fact that you care enough to say “I couldn’t care less” is apparent. If it didn’t bother you to listen to whoever was talking, then you wouldn’t have said anything. What’s important is that people understand what you are trying to say.

    The phrase “I couldn’t care less” can make sense depending on its usage. It’s actually a more polite way of informing somebody that you are losing interest in what they are saying, not that you have lost all interest. It can be a short way of saying “I might care less, if you continue to talk about this subject”. Don’t believe me? Look up the definition of the word “could”. However, the fact that it is confused with “I couldn’t care less” causes many problems.

    I’ve heard people say that you must qualify when, or under what conditions, you care less. Well, if that’s the case, then you must also qualify when you will not care less. The fact that it is a past tense of can should make that obvious. Somebody could say, “So you didn’t care until I brought it up, but now you are enthralled?”. Think about that for a couple seconds before you blow your top. The obvious meaning is always implied.

    Also, which phrase is sarcastic? They can both be used sarcastically. As for whether it is known to be sarcastic, you can easily tell by the speaker’s inflection. Hopefully the speaker knows what he is saying. I highly doubt that many of the “I couldn’t care less” proponents have any clue what they are saying.

    Try saying “I no longer care”. Most similar phrases are also fine. “I couldn’t care less” is too ambiguous.

  • Keith

    @Bastards!! I couldn’t disagree with you more. I’m sorry. Perhaps that’s too ambiguous. What I mean to say is, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    To say, “The phrase “I couldn’t care less” can make sense depending on its usage,” is ridiculous. It makes perfect sense just as it is. In four words, it succinctly conveys that a person cares so little about something that they could not possibly care less. We don’t need to know what it is they don’t care about, or why. We can safely assume that whatever it is, they don’t care about it, at all.

    Also, it is not, as you say, “a more polite way of informing somebody that you are losing interest in what they are saying…” In fact, it is rather impolite and abrasive. If my wife were to ask me whether I thought she should paint the kitchen white, or yellow, and I were to reply, “I couldn’t care less,” I might be telling the truth, but I highly doubt that she would take my response as a polite suggestion that she rephrase the question to make it more interesting to me.

    It is truly ironic that you spent five paragraphs trying to convince readers that “I couldn’t care less” is “too ambiguous,” and in the process made absolutely no sense whatsoever.

  • Matt

    I am British and as such would obviously find an American colloquialism strange, but I have to say, ‘could care less’ really irritates the hell out of me. Simply because of the logical inconsistency – bring out a new phrase if you will, but please! Have it make sense!

  • Carlos

    It irritates me to no end when people say, “I could care less,” when it is clear that their intention is to communicate that they do not care at all. It demonstrates a lack of intelligence, plain and simple.

  • could but don’t

    If you could care less, then why don’t you, and why should I care that you could care less?, I couldn’t!. twats.

  • finstagfunk

    ‘I could care less’ = if you do this I might over look this. L2People Thanks

  • Bastards

    @Keith

    You helped point out one of my mistakes, of which I’m sure there are many. For that, I’m grateful. In the first sentence of the second paragraph, I meant to say “I could care less”. However, you did nothing other than provide meaningless examples in a rude way from that point forward. Your grammar is obviously better than mine, but you don’t seem to know anything about creating a good argument.

    I’m only 22 and, to be honest, don’t understand everything about the English language. You, however, are probably much older and hung up on the things that are absolutely pointless to argue about. I’m sure you knew what I was trying to say, but dodged my point by arguing against my typo. Lighten up!

  • my2penceworth

    @Bastards

    Sorry Bastards, I have to to fall in with Keith on this, despite the slightly rude last paragraph. You claim he provided meaningless examples. The examples he provided were clear and unambiguous and demonstrated the common English usage of the phrase “I couldn’t care less”.

    The phrase itself is in no way ambiguous – I could not care less about what you’ve just said to me because I have no interest whatsoever.

    Or, if one wants to get smacked in the face for being incredibly annoying:

    “My interest level in your statement is equal to 0. Interest levels can be expressed as a number in the range 0 to 100, with no negative values permissible. Thus, as I have already stated my interest level in your statement is zero, it is impossible for me to be any less interested than I currently am…ergo, I could not care less, or to make use of the shortened form, I couldn’t care less” 😉

    The chances of getting that statement out before you’re unconscious on the floor, or talking to a deserted room are very slim.

    “I could care less” isn’t confused with “I couldn’t care less”, it’s used in the the same context and with the same intended meaning.

    The phrase “I could care less” taken alone, without any knowledge of any extra qualifying phrase, simply does not make sense if the intended implication is that you have no interest in a statement..and this is is the intended implication in all the situations I’ve encountered it.

    my god, I really need to find something better to do with my time…

    Toodle pip

  • Tim S

    We (those who speak English as a native language from an early age) learn English through COMMUNICATION, not through an English class — therefore, the rules which govern how the English language should run (which, if you have ever learned another language, are abstract and often contradictory to what would be expected) are not implemented, for the most part, unless learned through communication.

    So when we criticize people for how they speak, we should recognize that the criticism is unwarranted because the individual is generally ignorant of any other way. Recognize that ignorance does not equal stupidity. Ignorance deals with a lack of exposure to something, not a lack of intelligence.

    I DO try to correct my errors in speech (saying “Jill got the ball from Jim and me” instead of “Jill got the ball from Jim and I” — “I” is the subject form and “me” is the object form)…but in casual conversation, it is probably too much to expect someone to be concentrating on all the grammar rules they’ve been taught in English class and elsewhere (usually by others cutting them off during conversation to correct them — simply worthless when the point is understood) when simply trying to talk. Give people a break….I’m very educated and I still say “I could care less” out of habit when both I and the listener know I mean “I couldn’t care less.” We move on in life and there’s no bitterness or hatred or judgment….isn’t that the way interaction should be? Who ever thought we’d hate people for how they speak….simply another way to reveal our own ignorance of resorting to hatred instead of love.

  • sydney

    uugghh its my biggest pet peeve! i always correct people… it doent make any sense. i feel bad for people trying to learn this stupid language

  • Joelle

    If you could NOT care less, then you do care a little. Or do you? Isn’t it sarcasm?

    If I could care less, that would mean that I WANT to care less than already do. I care so little that I WANT you to know that I WANT to care even less.

    Caring less and not caring less should be a choice, not a grammatic battle.

    When I cannot care less, I will say so.

  • uk

    Someone saying “could care less” is like someone saying “pacific” instead of specific. It is a mistake that has become accepted over time, even if it is meaningless. Another example is saying “should of” instead of “should have”. The English language is quite complicated, and has to be made simple so those with a lower IQ can learn enough of it to get by. This simplifed English is known as American English.

  • Tim S

    uk, your comment reveals little about the people who say “could care less,” but quite a bit about your arrogance and ignorance. You should be ashamed of your bigotry.

    But let’s put your blatantly obvious bigotry aside and deal with the errors in what you said:

    First, you categorize an entire nation as having a lower IQ because of shifts in language. It reveals your ignorance because every language, despite the intelligence of the people, changes over time. Also, you take a nation with at least 4 dialects and lump them into one group of people that you designate as having a lower IQ.

    Second, you make an unfounded statement that “could care less” and “should of” are CREATED in order to accommodate people with a lower IQ in America – “has to be made simple so those with a lower IQ can learn enough of it to get by.” Your statement implies that it was an ACTIVE EFFORT by intelligent people to help those lacking intelligence to be able to speak English. If that is not your meaning, then you might want to retract your entire comment, because you’re showing your inability to express yourself appropriately through the English language.

    Third, the complications found in the English language reveal an inability to maintain consistent rules, long before American English evolved. People learning English as a second language struggle with the frequent deviation from grammatical rules. Essentially you’ve stated British English comes from people with a higher IQ. Again, you might want to retract your statement altogether because you’ve made a fool of yourself by not recognizing that your line of reasoning would mean that the inconsistency in the English language (before American English) reveals our inferiority to all other people groups whose languages follow grammatical rules more consistently.

    Good luck with your bigotry, uk.

  • lola

    i think they both sound good but i think the “I could care less”
    kinda indirectly means that something is so unimportant that you could be caring less about it rather than talking about it with someone lol idk

  • lola

    i think they both sound good but i think the “I could care less”
    kinda indirectly means that something is so unimportant that you could be caring less about it rather than talking about it with someone lol idk

  • Jme

    I say ‘I could care less’ to mean I could conceivably care less about the subject if we continue to discuss it. However, I have no desire to discuss the matter any further.

  • NewSpeak

    If you say “I could care less” when what you mean to say is that you don’t care about something, then you are just spouting what you perceive to be a ready-made phrase without having any understanding of its inherent meaning. You are corrupting language, helping it evolve into a form which makes less sense than it does now. If anybody wants to complain that English is a complicated language to learn and has no discernible rules (and I see that several in these comments have made just such a point), it’s because it has a long history of people bastardising it like this.

    If anybody here is of the persuasion to use ridiculous phrases such as “I could care less” and think it unimportant that the meaning is muddled (thereby indicating that the person attempting to express that meaning is equally muddled), I would recommend that you read George Orwell’s famous essay “Politics and the English Language,” wherein he takes aim at those who speak in stock phrases so as to avoid actually having to think about what they themselves are trying to say.

    http://www.george-orwell.org/Politics_and_the_English_Language/0.html

    He knew what he was talking about.

  • john

    I searched google and came to this site just because I was reading something and came across the phrase “could care less.” I was wondering if the phrase was even really grammatically correct, given that it makes no logical sense given the phrase’s intended meaning. According to this site, I guess it’s like using the word “ain’t”–if something is used incorrectly enough times, they just add it to the dictionary. It doesn’t make it right, it just makes our human culture that much dumber and gives lexicologists a job to do instead of reprinting the same dictionary over and over.

  • Brad K.

    I think of “I could care less” as implying a phrase like “I could care less, if I cared at all”. That is, there is such little care or concern that if it could be measured, it would be reduced.

    “I couldn’t care less” is simpler, that there is such little care or concern, that if it could be measured, it would be reduced.

    “I couldn’t care less” seems more colloquial, “I could care less” more highbrow and disdainful as well as uncaring.

  • tbusby

    What is most interesting to me is that so many people get worked up over such a silly little thing. I couldn’t care less if someone says “I couldn’t care less” OR “I could care less”. Life is too short to let something as petty as this get to you.

  • coologuy1957

    tbusby is correct. People are getting all worked up about something sarcastic that has nothing to do with logical or proper grammar! Besides, the more of you there are that get upset by it, the more I will say it to irritate you!!

  • MK

    Of course, in terms of logic, “couldn’t care less” is the only one that makes sense. But it doesn’t change the fact that “could care less” is a recognized and understood expression. And it’s been around before most of us were even born.

    So when you are ‘correcting’ people, you really aren’t. “Could care less” is a colloquialism, just the same as all the other ones that aren’t your pet peeves.

    Obviously, it is okay to use “couldn’t care less”, too, because that makes sense as a normal statement (but really it just seems like someone who is messing up the expression). Still, no problem.

    But to go the extra step and correct and lecture someone who uses “could care less” is silly (and obnoxious).

  • Michael

    And the American destruction of the English language continues…

  • Jason

    The problem is that, while “I could care less” and “I couldn’t care less” may seem interchangeable, the first phrase is an irreducible unit, since breaking it down into its component words will give an incorrect interpretation of its meaning. The meaning of an irreducible phrase must be memorized.

    The reason that the existence of many irreducible phrases is troublesome is that, in the long run, it exponentially expands the number of units a person must memorize to be fluent in English.

    Imagine if we had to memorize a separate phrase for every idea we wanted to express! Conversation would be reduced to a few basic exchanges.

  • Sebastian

    Ahh I love discussion boards, I always get at least a good chuckle.

    My favorite part is from “Bastards!!” in his attempt at explaining his original post; “I’m only 22 and, to be honest, don’t understand everything about the English language. You, however, are probably much older and hung up on the things that are absolutely pointless to argue about.” Haha. Didn’t you just write your own five paragraph diatribe?

    Then theres Thusby. Come on dude, everyone obssesses over something. Think about yours, it’ll come to you.

    And MK… OK how do I explain this amicably? Nope, theres no way. Um you’re telling me a person’s words dont matter because you assume to know what you are intended to understand. Communication was developed because assumptions just weren’t cuttin’ it.

    Whew. I think I have the most fun when I’m the most bored.

  • MK

    Arguments based on ‘English should be easy to learn’ are ridiculous. Sorry Jason, I’m not sure what you’re comparing English to, but if you think any language breaks down into nice ‘irreducible units’ that can conveniently looked up in a dictionary or run through Google Translate, you’ll be sadly disappointed.

    @Sebastian

    “cuttin'”? Hmm… I fail to comprehend what you are trying to communicate there. I would ASSUME it’s just a cute way of writing “cutting” but communication doesn’t work that way, right? But even if you’re ‘cutting’, what are you cutting? What’s “it”? That phrase just doesn’t make sense. It’s almost as if you’re using a FIGURE OF SPEECH.

    And there’s an apostrophe in “theres” which I might have thought was a typo except you did it twice.

    I really don’t know how you came to the conclusion that I said ‘words don’t matter’. I basically said like it or not, ‘could care less’ is an accepted expression and to try and correct people just makes you look like a fool.

    There’s a reason people say “could care less” but never “could agree more”… if you think slang/idioms/figures of speech don’t belong in a language because they make no sense when taken literally, well, good luck on your crusade.

  • Jen

    As a grammar geek I have greatly enjoyed this discussion… thanks. I had always thought that “could care less” was an uneducated bastardization of the proper phrase, “couldn’t care less.” I had no idea that people used it sarcastically or that there was once a longer version of it… thank you John Ireland for pointing that out!

    >>john Ireland on August 10, 2007 3:53 pm
    In the late 1950’s, a verbose variation on the term “I couldn’t care less” was spoken, “I suppose I could care less, but I don’t see how.” Words were dropped out over the next few years until “I could care less” was all that was left. Those too young to know the history of the saying likely cringe and think it is nonsense. Those who know its derivation mentally hear the unspoken words and accept its meaning without concern.

  • furQ

    @Sebastian: Yes, yes, dance my puppets! You all exist to amuse me in my boredom haha I am the puppet master!

    Anyway, both versions of ‘care less’ are subtly different in meaning (the US english seems more ironic, whereas the British english is a statement of fact). There are plenty of cases where British english has borrowed and corrupted phrases from US english too, so lets forget about national prejudice.

    What really gets me is the phrase ‘beg the question’. This is a phrase which indicates a logical fallacy, but has been co-opted to mean something different. If we’re going to get Orwell on a phrase’s arse, we could at least save it for one that is directly involved in an expression of a cognitive process.

  • Toasty!

    I think if you try to correct someone, they will likely just use the phrase again on you…

  • JonD

    You’re giving people WAY too much credit if you claim that they’re using “could care less” sarcastically. It’s laziness, pure and simple. Americans have it backwards, they’re supposed to engage their brains BEFORE, not after, they open their mouths.

  • ml

    this is great! love my2penceworth’s comments on 3/2/09.

    “Could care less” has made it into the lyrics of a country song called “Do I” by Luke Bryan.

    I also get irritated when people say “Chomping at the bit” or “nip it in the butt.”

  • Jen

    ml – “Nip it in the butt” makes me cringe too. But what’s wrong with “chomping at the bit”? Isn’t that an equestrian reference?

  • ml

    Jen, I think it started as champing. Since chomping and champing mean the same thing I guess this example it is a little different from our original thread from the dead topic.

  • bbq burrito

    “I could care less” had no practical usage before it became an idiom. Anyone arguing that it lacks clarity should consider that. And those of you who presume to judge a person’s intelligence based on the phrases he uses are beneath contempt. Except for the British folk, who are just silly.

  • happysoul

    “I could not care less” can also imply that you cared a lot about something.

    I cared about her so much that I could NOT care less. =)

  • Louise

    @Jen and ml

    I believe that you don’t say ‘nip it in the butt’, it’s supposed to be ‘nip it in the bud’. You’re supposed to compare it to a flower when it’s a bud. You nip it before it starts growing.

    I’ve never heard ‘nip it in the butt’. I suppose that’s come about because bud and butt sound quite similiar. I’m suprised you’ve never read it though. Or is it an American translation??

  • Kyla

    Oh gosh there’s a whole cult following of the “couldn’t care less” supporters of which I am one your biggest proponents. It used to urk me to the utmost starting in oh, elementary school. I am not 23 and I have all but given up (another saying I don’t really understand). I still correct people. But they won’t stop. They just look at me as overly particular.

    But i do cringe. Keep up the good fight! Ignorance is not bliss–it urks us 🙂

  • JAY

    @happysoul What you said made NO sense at all!!

  • Amanda

    I hate when people say “I could care less” meaning they don’t care at all. I always correct my friends and family when they say it. “I couldn’t care less” is way more accurate and effective.

  • doreen

    well..it irritates me when i hear or read “I couldn’t care less” when meant they don’t care.
    To me the literal translation to “I couldn’t care less” is i don’t care less, which means they do care a little.

    IMO “I could care less” means just that – i could care less or i don’t care…or how about a compromise “I couldn’t care” or simply “I don’t care” but i will continue to say “I could care less” or “I don’t care”.

  • Harman

    Doreen,

    There are way too many errors in what you wrote. You may want to read what others wrote and then comment.

  • Un Americain

    I could care more about this stupid argument.

  • Andrew

    If someone is talking about something which I find uninteresting, I might say “This is uninteresting”. I might also say “This is interesting”, when in reality I still believe that it is uninteresting. I am stating something in opposition to my actual belief. This is known as “Sarcasm”.

    If in reality I could not care less about something, I might say “I could not care less”. I might also say “I could care less”, when in reality I still could not care less. I am stating something in opposition to my actual belief. This, too, is known as “Sarcasm”.

  • FineByMe

    Next up….

    Debate the use of the pithy and emotionally charged, “Tell me about it!”, vs the soulless, long-winded, but semantically correct, “Don’t tell me about it”.

    Sometimes rules are broken. No harm done.

  • mikeo

    I somewhat envy the people whom grammatical errors have no effect on as long as they understand the intent. It bugs the crap out of me.

  • ashleighh

    This annoys me so much. I read “I could care less.” all the time and i just don’t get it. It makes no sense whatsoever. I always think to myself, “Have they made an error? A typo? Or is this something they do on a regular basis?” Honestly, how does “I could care less.” portray that you don’t care at all? I wish I knew.

    ashleigh.

    ps. This thread is very entertaining. The way people get worked up over such little things is extremely amusing!

  • Eric

    Thanks for this topic. I googled it looking for some answers as to why people say “could” care less. I always thought it didn’t make any since and now I know I’m not alone. Haha.

  • Michael

    Sorry, Americans. “I could care less” is illogical and a bastardisation of English, and you know it.

  • Sarah

    I am so mad–I bought a study guide for the Teacher Certification exam for Florida–grades 6-12. It has “Couldn’t care less” labelled as “Incorrect” because, as the author says, it’s a double negative. I HATE when study guides have glaring errors. They’re supposed to be smarter than I am.

  • Keith

    I can’t say “I couldn’t care less” about this topic, but I can say “I could care less” for the simple reason that I couldn’t care more!

    Yes, it pains me when people say “I could care less” when they actually mean they couldn’t care less. Of course, if they genuinely mean that they could care less, that’s fine. As I said, I could care less about this topic. But I don’t.

    But let’s give the benefit of the doubt here for those who say they “could care less” when they couldn’t.

    With as much sarcasm as you can possibly muster, read this line:
    “As if I could care less” .

    Is it not reasonable to truncate this, with appropriate sarcasm, to “I could care less” just as one might (and does) say “I should be so lucky” when he is really saying (but seldom says) “As if I should be so lucky”

    Anyway, is there any discussion on “can not” versus “cannot” anyone can point me to? “Can not” is often, but not always, incorrectly used and it is something else that I could care less about but don’t.

  • steph spez

    Its not english that they are speaking when they say could care less….. They might as well say that they could care less…but i dont…..how does that make sence….maybe go back to grade six grammar class.?

  • MightyMouse

    This is a silly debate. Obviously if your level of caring = 0, and we assume that there is no option to take caring to a negative integer, then it is impossible to care less. To state that you ‘could care less’ either introduces the possibility of negative caring or makes no sense. If caring = 0, then ‘couldn’t care less’ is the only phrase to use; the alternate phrasing tells us that you care, at least a little. If ‘could care less’ must be used then please couch it in the terms shared by John Ireland so that your meaning is clear.

    To those that claim the use of ‘could care less’ is sarcasm: It should be noted that sarcasm is not something that translates well into the written word. Previous comments also lead to the conclusion that the definition of sarcasm should be researched further. While you’re there, look up ‘irony’ and save us all some grief in future.

    uk – 18-05-09 (dd-mm-yy, how dates SHOULD be noted) – commented that English had to be made easier to learn and so developed into American English. His/her bigotry may shine through the comment but to a certain extent he/she is not wrong. American English contains MANY words and phrases the meaning of which has been changed unnecessarily.
    Some examples:
    ‘purse’ – a small bag or container for carrying money and small personal items. If you can shove a cat into it, it is not a purse.
    ‘fanny’ – no, really, look this up; it doesn’t mean what you think it means.
    ‘ass’ – It’s a donkey folks, Equus africanus asinus to share the Latin, not a human body part.
    ‘flue’ – a part, but not the whole, of a chimney.
    ‘fag’ – a cigarette
    ‘bum’ – a body part (see ‘ass’ above) rather than a scrounger or homeless person
    The list is almost endless and others will probably add to it.

    In a further digression it should be noted that the shortened form of the word ‘mathematics’ should either be ‘maths’ or ‘math.’; the dot indicating that the last letter of the abbreviation is not the last letter of the original word. The dot is absent from the form ‘maths’ as the letter ‘s’ is the last letter of ‘mathematics’. See how that works? Clever isn’t it? Try applying it to other abbreviations and see how much fun you can have.

    Oh, & the letter ‘U’ appears in a significantly greater number of words than American English would suggest.

    Perhaps if we all spoke the same language there would be less confusion and conflict in the world and we would not, for example, have invaded sovereign powers to ‘bring about democracy’/’find weapons of mass destruction’. We would instead have invaded to ‘ensure the continuing flow of oil’.

    @Sarah: Return the study guide, ask for a refund. If we remove the pesky apostrophe from the phrase we have: ‘could NOT care less’. Careful analysis reveals the presence of a single negative (NOT) as the word ‘less’ is only a negative in certain mathematical circumstances (e.g. 200 less 55 equals 145). When teachers are incorrectly trained their student’s don’t have a hope.

    @steph spez: That should be: senSe; and apostrophes belong here: It’s, & here: don’t. It would validate your suggestion to “go back to grade six grammar class” if you hadn’t made some classic errors.

  • Ricardo

    I speak English as a second language, and it really burns my eyes when I read “I could care less”…

    It makes no sense, and is clearly wrong (non-sensical) to say that expression. The reasoning that “everybody around here says it” is to me no excuse. It sounds like someone caught in the act (in the wrong) trying to hide in the crowd.

    It reminds me of the “they’re/there” and “you’re/your” trap that so many native English speakers fall into. This mistake too burns my eyes, stops my reading, has me gasping. I don’t think I or anyone who learned English as a 2nd language would ever mess these terms up. At least in this case no native speaker would come to the defense and say it is a permissible evolution of the language….

  • Roger dat

    Wow, a bunch of english nazi’s getting mad over 2-3 letters and an apostrophe.

    Get off your english high horse. Not everything has to be so rigid. If people understand what you’re communicating what difference does it make?

    How ’bout dem cowboys?…ooops crucify me.

  • I really don’t give a care

    I could care less= I could care less than what I”m caring, which is zero= I don’t care at all.

    I could care less= a softer way of saying I don’t care

    I could not care less= Some idiot trying to explain this is THE only or correct way to get your point across, with this type of idiom expression.

    Some People treat English like math and follow strict rules on what they deem is correct. There’s no such thing as correct or proper english. It’s only correct in how you choose to make your money.

  • melissa

    I’ve always wondered why people say such a thing that makes no sense at all. Now I know for sure it is an grammar error. Jeesh! It will for now on be like nails on a chalkboard every time I hear it.

  • Ricardo

    > I could care less= I could care less than what I”m caring, which is zero= I don’t care at all.

    Hahaha! This phrase you so nonchalantly use is pure non-sense and the reason why this whole discussion started. You say “I could care less than what I”m caring, which is zero”. Right! You could care less like you could be more invisible than something that is not there.

    > Some People treat English like math and follow strict rules on what they deem is correct.

    But what is language except words and rules? Steven Pinker wrote a whole book to nail that point http://amzn.to/biiugM

    You want to change the rules? Fine. You are creating a dialect. Perhaps we should do as the Germans do: they have Hoch Deutsch (high German, which is the strict, official, formal German language) and then they have plain Deutsch — which can be quite different and carry strong local flavor — in pronounciation, vocabulary and even grammar.

    So… keep in mind we are discussing “High English” here. And don’t feel obliged. Instead feel free to create your own friendly neighborhood dialect.

  • Anonymous

    Both of them are vague, which is why I never use them. I couldn’t care less can easily be twisted into “I care this much, and couldn’t possibly care less than the amount of care that I already have”

    conversely, “could care less” can be twisted into “I could care less, as I do care to a certain degree”

    I just say, I don’t care, or I don’t give a damn.

  • Wally

    I like Hawkeye’s remark to Trapper, “The instrument has yet to be invented which could measue my indifference to that topic”. Try that instead of “I couldn’t care less”.

  • ajs

    The thing that drives me crazy about this argument is the prescriptive attitude and knee-jerk rejection of language change and novel forms. It doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to realise that there’s a huge, unspoken “As if…” which precedes “I could care less”. It’s sarcastic. To argue, as someone has above, that its use is slang and that the ‘discussion ends there’ is just a ridiculous position to take. To argue about language changes being unneccesary (other than those in a preferred direction of course!) is rather like Canute and his beach.

    And MightyMouse, perhaps you should read Pinker’s ‘Language Instinct’, in which he deals with the US usage of the idiom and labels it sarcastic, similar to ‘self-deprecatory jewish humo(u)r’. While it may not be evident in writing, it certainly is phonologically. Language isn’t simply the written word, although the latter is certainly easier to corral with arbitrary rules.

    In short, LOL SPERG MOAR!

  • Incompetent

    If you couldnt care less, then why is it assumed that it is because you are already at the lowest level of caring? is that the only reason that a person could care less about something?

    I couldnt give you any money because…? I dont have any? I require it to purchase something of my own? Because you are a moron and i could care less about you?

    Yes, i could care less about you. The amount of care that i have for you doesnt matter to me. I could care less about you.

  • Couldn’t be less incompetent

    “If you couldnt care less, then why is it assumed that it is because you are already at the lowest level of caring?  is that the only reason that a person could care less about something?”

    Because that is the only explanation that is absolute, that does not require additional assumptions or information. And because no additional information was given. Counter example? “I couldn’t care less about you because you are my sister, and sisters care for each other”. See that in this case more information is required.

    “The amount of care that i have for you doesnt matter to me. I could care less about you.”

    Now that is incoherent. You first say the amount doesn’t matter and then make a descriptive assertion about the amount?

    Let me fix it and make it coherent:
    “The amount of care that i have for you doesnt matter to me. I *don’t know* whether I could care less or whether I could care more about you. I just never think about it.”

    I could’t marry you

  • Steve

    English speakers should stop using such indirect ways to express their thoughts. Just say I don’t care.

  • John & Julie Eidsvoog

    It’s sad that today’s Google search shows these results:
    “could care less” 13.8 million
    “couldn’t care less” 8.2 million

    BTW, “could’ve” still beats out over “could of” by a wide margin. I guess it will take some more time for the complete dumbing down of our society.

  • ajs

    Guys, coherence isn’t just a matter of logic. If you’re discussing the written sentences, I would argue that you’re missing a huge component of how these phrases work semantically. At least in their original forms, they’re phonologically very different. One is a flat statement, the other accompanied by a figurative roll of the eyes and unspoken preceding ‘as if’. Perhaps the internet is to blame for flattening out some of the differences between speech and writing. I’m just saying that there’s a giant chunk of context which is vital for an understanding of the differences between these idioms, and by making a simplified argument about the grammatical logic of the written sentences you run the risk of missing the point.

    Having said that it’d be nice to get access to some corpus data to see if there are actual measurable differences in KWIC.

  • ajs

    On a related note, ‘Riddley Walker’ is a good example of linguistic change that makes idiomatic expression eventually empty and meaningless to speakers, who then fill it with a new and different sense of meaning. It also owns 🙂

  • Starlet

    I’ll just bring it down to math: Can you have less than 1? Yes. You cannot, however have less than 0. If you could care less than 0, then you could care less. However, since you CANNOT have less than 0 you cannot care less.

  • ajs

    *facepalm*

  • sk

    I’m with Bastards! on this one. I think everyone obsessing over a 50 year old idiomatic expression that has worked its way into the day to day vernacular really needs to get a life.

    I also like her point — that the very act of saying “I could not care less” indicates SOME degree of caring. Or else why bother to say anything at all?!!

    In terms of PURE grammar, there’s no doubt that “I couldn’t care less” is “proper and correct”. However, to say that anyone using “I could care less” is ignorant — well, THAT’S just ignorant, IMO. Life’s simply too short to invest that much negative energy in something so insignificant.

    To anyone whose world comes crashing down every time you hear someone say “I could care less”…I’d really hate to know you.

  • Guttles

    lol this is not complicated. if you care about something, you can certainly care less. if you don’t care about something, you can’t care less. both uses are logical under the right circumstances. for instance, a girl yells “you don’t care about me!” at her mom. and mom replies “well, i could care less.” or, someone is trying to talk to you about something that you’re indifferent to, and you say “i couldn’t care less.” simply because you don’t care. both are correct, and understandable. if someone uses either one incorrectly by meaning the opposite. that is their problem, you shouldn’t care. if anything, “i couldn’t care less” should be replaced with a simple “i don’t care.” lol you can’t mistake that. anyways this savage, native american doesn’t care about paragraphs. take that, queen in title only.

  • ajs

    @Guttles

    That ‘could care less’ example isn’t the use that we’re talking about. It’s an idiom, you’ll never be able to make people replace it with something else. A key feature of an idiom is delexicalisation- that is, that the individual words don’t make a contribution to the overall meaning of the phrase. This phrase is sorta halfway there, to the point where words can change (could/couldn’t) but the overall meaning stays the same to the people who use it. I mean, why don’t people get all spergy about how candles only have one end? Or moan about the lack of midnight oil?

  • Guttles

    i understand what you’re saying. my point is that idioms are retarded. there is absolutely no necessary use for them. an idiom is just a fancy name for slang. i couldn’t care less means exactly what it implies, i don’t care. therefore it shouldn’t be considered an idiom at all. now, i could care less, should be considered an idiom. but, only if you mean the opposite “i don’t care” when you say it. otherwise, i could care less means exactly what it says. that being said, people assuming that you’re saying something other than what you’re saying is ignorance. such as assuming that a person is saying “i don’t care” just because they said “i could care less.” okay lets summarize. i couldn’t care less = proper, word for word at that. and i could care less = proper or idiom, depending on the speakers intended meaning of the phrase. and, the listener does not dictate the meaning of the speaker. and to everyone that says that americans butchered the english language. just how do you think english came to be?

  • Guttles

    in other words, it depends on the intent of the speaker/author/journalist etc.

  • Guttles

    @Bastards!! and sk

    as for i couldn’t care less implying that you care somewhat. that’s plain wrong. you say it because someone else needs to know that you simply don’t care.

  • Jen

    > my point is that idioms are retarded.

    Well, now you’ve convinced me. Thanks for that erudite analysis!

    Seriously… that’s a silly argument. I think health insurance companies are retarded, but it doesn’t mean I can make them go away or that they don’t fulfill a certain function whether I like it or not.

  • ajs

    > shouldn’t be considered an idiom at all.

    Well it clearly is an idiom, because like I said, people can replace a word within the phrase with another while retaining the original intentionality of meaning. The individual words mean different things, but a key feature of an idiom is that meaning is not derived from the individual words.

    You mention that the listener/reader doesn’t dictate meaning. Neither does the speaker; meaning is derived through negotiation, and clearly some are willing to accept that both variations of the phrase mean “I don’t care”.

    As for idioms being slang, that’s an interesting point. Both slang and prefabricated language are extremely creative forms of expression which may or may not be appropriate in a particular set of circumstances. I don’t know if I believe that idiom=slang though.

  • AKO

    When someone tells me they could care less I always ask them how much less. Then I usually have to explain it to them.

  • Tim S.

    AKO, I’m sure they leave that conversation thinking you’re a great guy/gal! 😉

  • Elly

    AKO, keep fighting the good fight!

    John Ireland, it’s really interesting to learn the origins of ‘I could care less’, but if this is the usage people intend, I think they should at least understand the concept. Not invent ridiculous ‘explanations’ that make no sense at all – Bastards!!, sk, incompetent et al, I’m talking to you!

    I find it amusing to be called an ‘English Nazi’ just because I care about using language correctly. Sigh. Dumbing down of society, indeed.

  • sk

    @ Elly (I’m talking to you!)

    It must really suck to be you. Somehow, for all your brilliance, you can’t even understand the difference between proper English and an idiotmatic expression that has been around for over 50 years. Yeah…you’re REALLY smart.

  • ajs

    So this entire argument boils down to the same old dull debate, description vs prescription?

    Elly: Is ‘proper’ English written or spoken? If ‘proper’ English can be spoken, what do you think about the grammar of spoken language? Those aren’t snarky quote marks by the way, I’m genuinely interested.

  • Chase

    Originated in the 1950s with the phrase ‘as if I could care less’

    The ‘as if’ was dropped, but still maintains the same meaning as ‘could care less.’

    Coincidence?

    The smart people are those who correct others when they hear ‘could care less’ – the dictionarily accepted term – due to a lack of familiarity with the phrase and its origin. I wonder if that sentence means literally what it says?

    An American shibboleth to assist us in spotting the Europeans 🙂

  • Ricardo

    Hmmm… “shibboleth”…
    Thanks for that. A new word a day, and that was a new one for me today. The stories behind it are quite neat:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibboleth

    But I do wonder if the Americans in this forum would agree that only non-Americans (Brazilian speaking here) would have antibodies against this expression.

  • nick chan

    logically, to me,

    could care less means you do not care anything more than an atom in measurement

    could not care less means you care MORE

  • ajs

    Clearly you do, all-caps warrior.

  • Trey

    I always say, “I could not care less”.

  • Mur

    Uttered either way, the idiom or phrase must be effective in communicating the position (and just the right attitude) of the speaker, else it would not endure.

  • shmee

    It’s sad that it has the ‘american’ added to it in the dictionary though. Americans already have a reputation for being ignorant of the rest of the world and the sheer stupidity of people who use the phrase ‘could care less’ is sad because it is an obvious logical error that people should realize.

    I think it is a good example of groupthink that is happening in society today where people pick up phrases they don’t even know the meaning to. It would be interesting to know if americans use the term more than other english speaking countries.

  • Dave

    Whoever did originally come up with “could care less” as the expression should be remembered as the village dullard, who can only be credited for making the English language just a little bit more obnoxious.

  • Keith

    I must say that after reading all these comments, I no longer find “I could care less” quite so irritating. In fact I quite like it (with appropriate sarcasm) and might even use it [though I might find myself adding a qualifier or two]. In addition I have become amused at my former irritation!

    Perhaps us “couldn’t care less” preferers first encountered someone using the phrase “could care less” (when obviously the person couldn’t) in written text rather than spoken. Consequently the appropriate tone of voice is not apparent. But now we should know better!

  • Raven

    Wow! Honestly speaking, I’m quite struggling with my spoken English at the moment and is doing my best to be fluent and eloquent somehow through a number of ways.

    Anyway, as for that “couldn’t care less” vs “could care less” matter, In my opinion, I think both phrases are distinctively different in meaning. “couldn’t care less” could be translated into “I don’t care even the smallest amount of the spectrum to that matter” whereas the latter could be translated into “I care with the tiniest degree of care”.

    But, kudos to all posters 🙂 I learned plenty of sensible things with my time reading all your post not the usual rubbish actually.

  • Ed

    “I could care less” works poorly as a colloquialism to represent “I don’t care”, which is what most people mean when they say it. Were it a phrase that otherwise made no sense then it would be fine to attribute the intended meaning to it, but “I could care less” is a simple sentence with a valid literal meaning, and that literal meaning is the OPPOSITE of the intended meaning of the colloquialism.

    If people started using “the sky is red” to mean “the sky is blue”, then what about when people actually want to say that the sky is red? Without further explanation (which would defeat the purpose of using a short expression) what hint is there to guide the reader to the correct interpretation? It’s very silly to replace the grammatically correct literal meaning of a sentence with its opposite simply because people have fallen into the habit of using it in that way. The people who pick up this phrase are obviously not paying attention to the words themselves and are instead accepting it as a “saying”, a colloquial expression.

    I tend to think it is poor use of the language. Sure, there may be an origin (the longer phrase some people have mentioned above) but when the reduced version makes perfect sense as a literal sentence, how are people who have not been exposed to the original phrase or the intended meaning of the shortened version supposed to understand? It’s a needless and illogical convolution of the English language.

    When ” n’t ” is all that is required to make the sentence literally mean what is intended by it, “I could care less” comes across much more like an error than it does a colloquialism, and no matter how many more people learn the origin behind it, there will always be people to whom “I could care less” will just look like a failure to understand the basic rules of the language.

  • JJ

    seriously, I could care less. Now cringe…hahaha

  • Maceo

    Honestly would you really say “I could agree more” as opposed to “I couldn’t agree more”? Now ask yourself which sounds incorrect. “I could care Less” or “I couldn’t care less”?

    This debate has now become a moot point.

  • Jim

    I’m surprised that nobody mentioned the common expressions, “Things could be worse” and “Things couldn’t be worse.” They have different meanings, which we can interpret from the combination of individual words, rather than from a prior knowledge of an idiomatic use of the entire expression. I’m sure you wouldn’t decide to use the first when you meant the second simply because the first sounded “more euphonious.”

  • Richard

    I was surprised to hear William Peterson, who plays the great intellectual and language fanatic Gil Grissom in CSI use “could care less” in a description of Grissom’s character. I know Will isn’t Gill but I thought there was something of an irony there!

  • John

    I would just like to say that American English IS its own language. (I’m talking to you uk) Why compare our version to your own. Your statements imply that all Americans are dumb and lazy. That’s like me saying all of the British are (for lack of a better word) racist and don’t know how to brush their teeth. Also I should point out that people don’t say, “should of,” they say, “should’ve (which translates to SHOULD HAVE)” Also people shouldn’t get worked up over such a little thing. I myself have realized the grammatical error when people use it, BUT that’s just it. It is just a grammatical error, nothing more nothing less. (Just so future commentors know, I use the phrase, (I couldn’t care less) <—— not a typo. Also no sarcasm in my comment.

  • Max

    I think that the expression “couldn’t care less” is more ambiguous than most people realize. Because people are familiar with its intended use they do not see that it could also mean : “I care so much about this issue that I could not according to my character and ethics care less about it than I do” ie. “I really care about this issue”

    On the other hand to say “I COULD care less” implies that this issue is of little importance.

  • rosalie

    ugh it has always bothered me when people say that they “can care less” when clearly they mean it as they dont care. such a pet peeve! please stop saying this

  • Gareth Jones

    I hear “could care less” a lot on American TV. If the intention of the individual was to say that they care to a degree on a particular subject and that it would therefore be possible for them to “care less”, then that’s fine.

    However, in the context of the conversation as a whole it’s clear that this is not what they mean to say at all. In fact what they mean is that they don’t care at all in which case saying that it’s possible for them to care less about the subject is contradictory and therefore an obvious mistake.

    The expression is “couldn’t care less” and it means that you don’t care about a given subject.

    The phrase “could care less” is not an expression at all – it’s just labelled as such by individuals who are embarrassed that they have been caught out using the actual expression incorrectly. This embarrassment is understandable as the correct expression is pretty straightforward and so to get it so wrong implies either carelessness or frankly, stupidity.

    I see from the comments above me that others seem to be struggling with this, so let’s look at another example. Would any of you ever say “I could give a damn” about a subject that you regard as unimportant or irrelevant?

    “I couldn’t give a damn” – I care so little about this that I would not even give a damn about it.

    “I could give a damn” – I care enough about this to give a damn about it.

    These pretty much mean the same thing, yet you would only ever use the first one under such circumstances. The fact that you would only ever use “couldn’t give a damn” in this case and yet would be happy to use “could care less” shows that the problem is that you don’t understand what “couldn’t care less” means; not that you are deliberately trying to invent some new expression that means the opposite of what you are trying to say – which is frankly ridiculous.

  • Jenn

    Wow! A four year argument suggests that both forms are likely here to stay. It also suggests that you all do appear to care a fair bit.
    Personally, I use “couldn’t care less” if I use it all, but when I hear it from others, I try not to miss the point by judging the form. The phrase that bugs me is “for all intensive purposes…” instead of “intents and purposes”! That’s one I hear all the time!

  • bb

    I still cannot see the poll anywhere

  • Tara

    “could care less” means this to me: I want to express that I don’t care, but the very act of expression shows that I DO care on some level, and this form acknowledges that fact.

  • Lex

    There is no logic in arguing this. It has come to a point where people have already given meaning and reason to either phrase and both can be correctly used depending on the context.

    I could care less when I could. If I couldn’t then I couldn’t. Who are you to quantify how little I care about that said subject? I care enough to respond but can care less when the topic is done. Or is that amount of care the least quantity I’m willing to have and I couldn’t have it any lower?

    Phrases are far more flexible than definitions of individual words. To simply brush off the meaning behind why it’s used by saying that it makes no sense means you’re not really listening.

    The important thing is not what is used, but why it is used.

  • mike

    I’m glad I stumbled across this site; it’s very enlightening on a lot of matters, and it’s refreshing to see that I’m not alone in being extremely irked by the ubiquity of this usage.

    It’s amusing to read how some will go to such great lengths to justify their [incorrect] use of language. If you have to explain it THAT much, it probably wasn’t right to begin with.

    Also, there’s at least one in every barrel… someone will inevitably show up whenever a correct form is being discussed, and lash out at everyone who’s apparently being a Grammar Nazi of some sort for daring to know the correct form and stand up for it.

  • ajs

    @Jenn – “for all intensive purposes” is an eggcorn. There are a ton of them, and they’re all pretty interesting. Also, Russell Hoban’s book Riddley Walker uses them quite a lot.

    @mike – what do you think of descriptive grammar versus prescriptive?

  • Simon

    I don’t actually understand how people here are trying to say
    ‘I could care less’ means they don’t care and that
    ‘I couldn’t care less’ means they really care.
    I can’t comprehend how some people have interpretted these wrong.

    ‘I couldn’t care less’ – The person cannot care less than their level of care now. Without any other information, you can assume their level of caring = zero. You have no more information so you cannot assume they care loads about this.

    ‘I could care less’ – The person can care less than their level of care. Without any other information, you can only assume their level of caring =/= zero because you can’t have anything less than apathy. If it does, then they could have ‘negative care’, which implies some kind of revusion or hatred, but would also mean they ‘care’ about it because you always take the modulus of the care value (e.g. I might care about global warming, but it doesn’t mean I like it).


    Let’s invert this for a moment. Instead of ‘less’ let us say ‘more’.

    If I said ‘I couldn’t care more’ and provide no more information, you HAVE to assume I’m at my maximum caring capacity. You can’t just think ‘Ok, well he is at 4% caring and can’t care any more, so he doesn’t really care’ as that’s adding your own info.

    If I said ‘I could care more’ and provide no more information then you HAVE to assume that I’ve still got caring capacity available. However, I could be almost at capacity, say 99%. Or then I could be at 0% caring, meaning I don’t care at all.

    Both ‘I could care more/less’ have a lot of ambiguity in them. Both ‘I couldn’t care more/less’ have a lot less ambiguity because you have to assume maximum/minimum caring capacity. If you don’t then you are providing your own information, and without all the facts you are wrong.

    E.g. Someone says ‘I couldn’t like cheese more’ I assume he really likes cheese. I can’t assume that he really hates cheese and cannot like it more because it brings him out in a rash and he gets attacked by mice, because that’s me making stuff up.

  • Simon

    Oh lol, large post.

  • The creator of english

    Maceo has ended any argument with his/her comparison.

    This should go on (for you ‘could care les’s sayers).

    Really what I meant to say is “This shouldn’t go on.”

  • Noo

    Wow, what an incredibly long argument.

    It has been an excellent diversion from the problems of the day. Thank you all – especial Maceo.
    Now I shall weigh in, and see if my insight can tip the scales.

    I support the “couldn’t care less” phrase as correct usage.

    It clearly and logically indicates how much you care. On that point alone it is exactly the same as the phrase “could care less”.

    However, the difference lies in the meaning:

    Semantically, “couldn’t care less” indicates how much you care – and that amount is zero, because that amount cannot be less.

    Semantically, “could care less” indicates how much you care – and that amount is some, because that amount can be less. Depending on the size of your “some”, you may actually care quite a lot.

    Addressing the argument that “could care less” is a sarcastic form of “couldn’t care less”, I have to disagree.

    Simply changing an affirmative form into a negative or opposite form doesn’t necessarily deliver sarcasm. Sarcasm revolves, by necessity, on the truth of a given situation.

    If Bob were a fat man, and we called him thin to communicate that, then that would be sarcasm; not because thin is the opposite of fat, but because thin is the opposite of Bob’s situation.

    Saying “nice shot” to a friend in a game of pool can only be sarcastic when the shot was not nice, and the situation is obvious.

    “Lovely weather today” when it is raining is sarcastic to the beachgoer, but genuine to the farmer who has been in a drought for 4 years.

    The important thing controlling whether something qualifies as sarcasm or not is the situation, and given that the situation – i.e., how much you care – is unknown, then the sarcastic effect is nil, because a comment seeking to be its opposite has no point of reference from which to juxtapose.

    So, what the phrases both mean is clear. While their meanings are approximately opposite, the attempt to communicate the meaning of the original by removing the grammatical negative component in the hope it will be understood as sarcasm demonstrates a lack of understanding of sarcasm itself.

    So on that basis alone it would seem that “couldn’t care less” is correct usage, while “could care less” is what the cool kids these days would (or should?) call a “sarcasm fail” .

  • Anna

    I could care less about this. — Big deal!!!!!!

  • Gary

    I am astounded that this has gone on as long as it has! I am in the camp of those who say, “I couldn’t care less.” for all the logical reasons. When others say to me, “I could care less.” I say or think, “Well then, why don’t you?”
    But I digress.
    This debate reminds me of a saying a maid we had once used to say to me as a child. (Being 72 now means that this goes back a long, long way.) When she didn’t care less she would say, “It don’t make no never-you-mind.”
    See if you can figure out what THAT means!

  • aileen gee

    It’s my understanding that “I could care less” was originally followed by a question mark, which got dropped along with the proper inflection at some point.
    “I could care less?” equals “I couldn’t care less”

  • Jesse

    I occasionally hate “could care less” with a passion, but there are other times I remind myself how I accientally say things improperly once in a while.
    The people trying to say this is sarcasm clearly don’t understand sarcasm and in that case I can see why they don’t understand the logical arguement.
    I’m going to try saying “I could care less” about things I actually care somewhat about just in an effort to confuse people.

  • Bryan

    If you don’t care about something, at all, the correct saying would be “I couldn’t care less”. No argument from me there, but I also think “I could care less” is acceptable, if you are trying to be very sarcastic. Like when someone tells you something that you don’t believe for a second, and you reply “YEAH, RIGHT!”

  • zerc

    This whole discussion has been wildly entertaining! (That’s just sad, isn’t it?)

    Imagine a computer asking a second computer in a monotone, robotic voice, “Do…you…care…about…politics?” Assuming the 2nd computer doesn’t, “I couldn’t care less” is the only response that will end the conversation. If it said, “I could care less,” the first computer would have no choice but to ask follow-up questions to determine its level of care. Logically, “couldn’t care less” is the only one that makes sense.

    Some have argued that “couldn’t care less” means that one cares a lot and cannot let that level of care drop, for whatever reason. That’s ridiculous. No one in the history of the world who’s cared about something has responded with “I couldn’t care less,” when asked if they cared about it.

    The sarcasm argument makes no sense either. I think people are confusing a sarcastic tone with actual sarcasm. Noo stated it very well a few posts above. Sarcasm depends on stating the opposite. If one doesn’t care and says, “I could care less,” they aren’t stating the opposite. True sarcasm would be something like, “Oh yeah, I love all the fighting and question evading in politics!!!” Tone doesn’t necessarily make something sarcastic. However, sarcasm always requires a certain tone if it’s to be understood as sarcasm.

    I believe that the, “I could care less,” folks out there know what they are trying to say, say it the way they know it, and are okay with that because most people, me included, know exactly what they mean. Their lives are probably way better than mine because right now they’re out at a club somewhere with their friends, partying and letting everyone know that they could care less that the music is really loud, and meanwhile I’m sitting at my computer responding to an argument that will have no end, vaguely bothered by the uncomfortable certainty that I’ve wasted a sizable portion of my evening and have to go to bed pretty soon.

  • Jeff

    Saying it without “not” is not a new form. Saying ax instead of ask isn’t “the new form” just because enough lazy people say it. They are both a butchering of the language. They are both wrong.

    It is very sad that someone that claims to give out tips has so many problems with grasping basic English.

  • Tim

    I couldn’t care less about this forum

  • Eric

    This may have been said already, but I haven’t read past 2009, so I don’t know. I notice when people use “could care less” in the wrong way, but I don’t correct them. In my experience, it is more common in everyday speech than online. I usually have no reason to use it in everyday speech. When I use it online, it’s usually to shut somebody up and claim victory in the argument, but that rarely works. There really is no good reason to use it seriously, online or off. If I really “couldn’t” care less about something, I would probably just smile and nod while the other person said whatever, or have long since left the conversation altogether. If I really “could” care less, by a little bit, I probably wouldn’t bother to say so. If I could care less, by a great deal, meaning that I really do care, then it should be pretty obvious. The only reason I am even thinking about this right now is that Imogen Lloyd Webber was on TV the other day talking about some of the odd differences in British/American English ,and she said that she found it odd that Americans used the phrase “couldn’t care less”. I was surprised, because I figured that would be the phrase that the British used.

  • bob

    Custom sometimes controls over correctness. The phrase “I could care less” has been used by the.sergeants in the U S.Army for generations to register their lack of concern and sympathy.for a poor recruit’s problems. I first heard it 50 years ago, wondered about it, and then began to care less myself. I wonder of Enifishmen with.military expwrience heardthe same talk in the.ranks.

  • kevin

    My interpretation of “I could care less”:

    1. If we continue to discuss this topic, I will continue to lose interest.
    (YES, you CAN care less. You just haven’t reached that point. All you want to convey by saying “I could care less” is that you’re losing interest.)

    2. Because of my waning interest, I have chosen to disregard the topic from this point on.
    (You are avoiding the situation in which you would care less by uttering the phrase “I could care less” and then immediately ceasing acknowledgement of the topic.)

    Either that, or a more ironic version of “I couldn’t care less.”

    seems legit

  • ajs

    @zerc: “Logically, “couldn’t care less” is the only one that makes sense.”

    Ah, Humans. Nothing if not logical, right?

  • Funslinger

    john Ireland said, “So do I, Jeremy. When an older person like myself says, “I could care less,” I assume they know they are using a shorthand version of the longer saying. I cringe when a younger person uses it because they don’t know why the say the opposite of what they mean.”

    John, you have committed a mistake that many people now make. You have incorrectly used the word ” myself” in place of the word “me.” I often find it laughable for someone to place the following sentence at the end of a letter, “You can contact myself at the number below.”

    In order to properly use “myself” the speaker must be the subject. e.g. “I wanted John and myself to take charge” would be correct. However, “She wanted John and myself to take charge” would be incorrect. From the subject’s (the one performing the action) viewpoint “myself” would not be “me.” It would be her. Therefore, “She wanted John and me to take charge” would be correct.

    And, in your sentence, it should’ve been “When an older person like me…”

  • Funslinger

    happysoul on February 12, 2010 11:11 pm
    “I could not care less” can also imply that you cared a lot about something.
    I cared about her so much that I could NOT care less. =)

    —————-

    happysoul, you must include the “I cared about her so much” part for that to be the case. The same should apply to the phrase “I could care less.” One should have to include the prefix “as if” in order for it to have the intended meaning. The intent of speech is to accurately communicate your information. When parts of statements are left out, it only hampers communication, not enhances it.

  • Funslinger

    A clarification of a part of my previous post:

    However, “She wanted John and myself to take charge” would be incorrect. From the subject’s (the one performing the action) viewpoint self would not be me. It would be her. In order for “she” to act on self, it would have to refer to her. “She wanted John and herself to take charge” would be correct. But when “she” is refering to someone else, self is incorrect. “She wanted John and me to take charge” is correct.

  • dare2be

    I could care less, if I cared to. ;-P

  • TS

    I don’t care if it’s become a common colloquialism, when someone says “I could care less” I want to punch them in the face, it sounds so stupid.

  • Koen Belgium

    I could care less about this whole debate. =)

  • Will

    Who decided to blame this on the Americans? As an American, I believe we are already maligned enough. As an expatriate living in a commonwealth country, I daily endure English translations (colour vs. color…. realise vs. realize …. and so forth.)

    If my brethren are responsible for introducing the horribly incorrect form of “I COULD care less…”, can someone please provide some credible evidence. If it exists, I will unhappily accept it and carry on correcting all offenders when I witness the incorrect usage.

    It is without question my biggest pet peeve. I am here ragging on it today because I’ve just read a quote from a prominent politician in the NYT who has used the incorrect form. Simply put, if you cannot figure out how and when to use this phrase *correctly*, you risk being considered ignorant.

  • Montana Miles

    The term “I couldn’t care less” means that you have zero care. Zero is an absolute. So if you revisit a subject you say you couldn’t care less about it means you have not reached the zero point as demonstrated by your return to the subject; Therefore you could still care less.

  • starsNbars

    interesting thread…I was a “could” hater, but now, after reading here, am starting to nearly believe that there could, just possibly, originally have been an ironical component to the “could” expression…. or is it just a retro-excuse for an illiterate mangling of the original expression by immigrants whose native language was not English, ach, I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not so sure.
    Prescriptive vs descriptive is a major issue (not equal to problem) in all of this; obviously our lovely mongrel mutt of a language has evolved pell-mell, and has prob’ly incorporated many eggcorns and spoonerisms, leaving little trace, but it behoves us to keep the limits wide and the variety large, while simultaneously questioning changes which appear to come for no other reason than for changes’ sake. I feel this particular neologism irks some of us because it appears to be an example of the latter, in addition to being an illiterate mistake/ sarcasm fail.
    The non-Americans in this thread perhaps feel that the USA has a more than just degree of license to wreak random changes to the language, due to its power through television and motion pictures, and so feel pushed into a conservative role. But, hey, just ‘cos loadsa folks say it, don’t make it correct; I’d personally like to see this hillbillyism die out due to a widespread effort of thought on our collective behalves….’hey, I been thinkin’ ’bout that ‘spression “could care less”….. I reckon it don’t make sense, let’s try it the other way round…shucks, know what..it makes more sense if you say “couldn’t care less”….’
    It’s a no-brainer, I say, let’s go for the way that makes more sense.

  • Iain

    @Gareth Jones on July 19, 2011 11:48 am

    “I hear “could care less” a lot on American TV. If the intention of the individual was to say that they care to a degree on a particular subject and that it would therefore be possible for them to “care less”, then that’s fine.

    However, in the context of the conversation as a whole it’s clear that this is not what they mean to say at all. In fact what they mean is that they don’t care at all in which case saying that it’s possible for them to care less about the subject is contradictory and therefore an obvious mistake.”

    You say yourself, at the start of your second paragraph, that the meaning is perfectly clear. This has been repeated over and over by others. I defy any native North American speaker to say that they have ever honestly been mistaken when hearing the phrase used in this way. If it is an idiomatic phrase, and it is unambiguous when said with the correct intonation, which it invariably is, then how could it be wrong? To say so is the epitome of an oxymoron.

    What’s more, although it retains its original literal meaning, who ever really uses it that way? I can see how using it in text on the internet may lead to confusion, but to attack it in its verbal form because it may cause confusion simply demonstrates your own unfamiliarity with a commonly used idiomatic phrase. It is you, not the speaker, who is lacking the requisite communication skills in this context.

  • Pat

    I’m happy to have found this page. At last I know there is debate about this. Such a small thing, I suppose, but it irks me no end to here people say “I could care less”. I’ve adapted to, even use some of the newer expressions but the “I could care less” irritates me no end. It’s the epitome of language misuse, especially since I don’t think it warrants correcting the other person since its use is so widespread now. I think some of the relatively new colloquialisms are clever and succinctly capture their intent but when someone says “I could care less”, my inner wordsmith goes into spasms – lol…

  • Dan Colborne

    I believe this slang term has evolved from “I could care less?” with an interrogative inflection, meaning, “Do you really imagine I could care less?”. This makes sense, but with the loss of the inflection it becomes a statement and in fact a misstatement. Concerning the entire matter, however, I could care less. Meaning, of course, I care a little, but not very much.

  • CN

    All the justifications for using “I could care less” are ridiculous. Some argue that it’s meant to be sarcastic. It still doesn’t make sense. If you were being sarcastic surely you would say, for example, “I really care what you think”. Then there are those that say we need to understand the origins of “I could care less” for it to make sense.  Some claim it originated as a question, some that it was preceded by “As if”, others that there was more to it, eg “I could care less but I’d have to try really hard”. Regardless, you can’t just leave off question marks or words that define the meaning or tone of the phrase and claim it means the same thing. That’s just stupid and wrong. Lastly, there are those that argue that “I could care less” means “I care a little but I might care less if you continue to talk about this”. Sounds like garbage to me. Why not say, “I care very little” or “I don’t much care” or “I find this boring”? In any case, when I come across “I could care less” in novels, it is obvious from the context that it is meant to convey not caring at all. 
    As for those who argue that “I couldn’t care less” could be taken to mean “I care so deeply about this that I couldn’t possibly care less”- GET REAL!  When has anybody ever used it in that context? Nobody would ever assign that meaning to ‘I couldn’t care less’. Talk about grasping at straws!

  • Iain

    @ CN on April 19, 2012 3:53 am

    But you did not address the point that NO native North American misunderstands it when spoken. It is a very commonly used phrase that everyone understands. By mere recognition of those facts it simply cannot be wrong. This is not a justification but a recognition of an undeniable reality. I understand not everyone is the early adopter type, but at some point this kind of prescriptive language approach has to face up to overwhelming “facts on the ground,” n’est-ce pas?

    You can say it is incorrect in British, Australian or wherever’s English, but in NA that just isn’t going to receive too many salutes when you run it up the flag pole. You are going against the tide of history on this one.

  • Spot

    I read through all of your comments………

    This subject can be debated forever with both sides producing valid arguments. Therefore…….

    After careful review……I have decided that I (have the capacity to) “could” care less about this subject. Actually, I am going to start caring less right now!

    LOL….

  • Willy Waver

    @Iain
    I’ve always felt that “I could care less” was originally used in speech, in an ironic sense, to mean its opposite. The problem with using it in writing is that the irony does not get across, and it ends up saying the opposite of what it is intended to say. It’s not a question of whether it’s “correct” or not.

  • Laquila

    What’s the point debating all this?

    Americans KNOW that when they say ‘I could care less’ they are conveying the same sentinment as the rest of the English speaking world when they say ‘I couldn’t care less’. Why bother trying to rationalise the difference?

    It’s simply a case of lazy Americans dropping the syllable after ‘could’. Just like they do with the word aluminium.

  • Marv

    I realize I am responding to something that was posted over two years ago, however one of my biggest pet peeves (even bigger than the topic of this debate) is seeing someone correct another’s grammar while evidently having little grasp on proper grammar his/herself.

    On 6/8/10, mikeo wrote: “I somewhat envy the people whom grammatical errors have no effect on as long as they understand the intent.”

    Mikeo, this should be written as such: “I somewhat envy the people on whom grammatical errors have no effect as long as they understand the intent.”

    It is especially easy to point this out considering the very nature of your post.

  • Feno

    You know, there’s an “internet law” that alleges that every message trying to correct somebody else’s writing mistakes will inevitably contain at least one mistake of its own. Try if you find one, the law is in general very reliable.

    As for “could not”/”could” care less… i prefer the wording could care less, as i always expect to find myself at fault if I declare that i could not care less. There’s always something i will be even less emphatic about than the last subject it did not want to be bothered with.
    Now saying “i could care less” always meant to me that it still might be possible to literally care less, but i wouldn’t reckon on it in any case, as it would be bothersome and take effort to really care less. So it has already surmounted the most energy, time, money etc. I am willing to invest in said subject.
    Or in other words I dislike couldn’t as it is literal and like could as it is figurative in my eyes.

  • Bruce Birch

    The point John Ireland tried to make on 10.8.2007 is the relevant one here. Language changes, quite quickly sometimes. And two basic processes in language change are deletion and lenition. Frequently occurring words and phrases become shorter and ‘softer’ over time, as is the case with “going to” becoming “gunna” in many dialects of English, and so on.

    The “I could care less” variant, along with its close cousins of the “i could give a *” group, are most likely shortened forms of expressions which originally proposed hypothetical contexts in which the speaker DID in fact “care” or “give a *”.

    These expressions begin with “As if” or “Like” as in “As if I could care” or “Like I give a *”. Over time the other bits dropped off, and we were left with the core, which, in terms of its propositional content, now expresses pretty much the opposite of what the original expression intended.

    But this is normal, not weird. There are many examples in any language of the same thing.

  • Michael

    It’s always been a pet hate of mine and I never understood it. Reading these arguments in favour of ‘I could care less’ make as much sense as the saying itself, especially the sarcasm argument which, frankly, is a really poor excuse.

    The sarcastic response to someone discussing something you have no interest in would be ‘I care LOADS’ preferably with a massive emphasis on the word loads. That’s clearly sarcastic which is something absolutely vital to sarcasm, if you don’t emphasis and make a big deal of it, it can easily be lost. ‘I could care less’ is (at absolute best) the most thinly disguised use of sarcasm I have ever heard of.

    If I talk to someone and they say ‘I could care less’ it simply fails to move me in any way. Do they mean they care a great deal and I should continue? Perhaps they care but they’re tired of discussing this subject? Either way I wouldn’t know how to respond to this statement because it means nothing and adds absolutely nothing of any worth to the conversation when taken at face value. This has happened and I didn’t know how to react at all but one thing I was certain of at the time was that this person definitely cared about this subject to some degree, I just had to try and figure out what that was!

  • KT

    I can corroborate what john Ireland said above .

    An (early 80s?) article which appeared the Milwaukee Journal – I believe it was in the “Words, Wit, and Wisdom” column of the ‘Green Sheet’ but don’t quote me on that – pointed out that the origin of “I could care less” is that it is a shortened form of “It’s possible I could care less, but I doubt it.” (and variations thereof).

    Incidentally, when I used the phrase once in conversation and an aquaintance of mine told me I was incorrect, I explained the above, but he accused me of not being able to admit when I was wrong. Sigh.

  • Anto

    Let’s cut to the chase. The phrase ‘I could care less’ is directly opposite to what people that use it actually mean. It’s not ironic or sarcastic, it’s just wrong.

    If you know it’s wrong and use it anyway, whatever. Just don’t try and justify it!

  • Laurence Almand

    If you “could care less” that means you do care somewhat. If you “could NOT care less” it means you don’t care in the least.

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