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.
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).
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