Submitted by Dyske  •  May 22, 2003

Couldn’t Care Less

A pet peeve of mine is people incorrectly using the expression “I could care less”. I’m no grammar nazi as you can tell from this email, but it doesn’t make sense to say. Here is an example.

Rooomate 1: “You suck at this video game. I always kick your butt in it.” Roomate 2: “I could care less.” Roomate 1: “Haha.”

If you say you COULD care less then that means you care to some degree. However, if you COULDN’T care less (the proper way of saying the expression) then it means you absolutely don’t care at all, therefore properly expressing your apathy.

From Brad Davis

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Double negatives are not wrong in English per se. In the rhetorical form of litotes, for example, they are an elegant form of understatement. Double negatives that cancel each other out to express a positive statement are perfectly acceptable.

The English teacher to whom Audi refers is obviously an example of the kind of idiotic pedagogue who half-learns grammatical rules and then regurgitates them without properly understanding them, thereby giving many dozens of pupils an incorrect understanding of the English language which will hamper them for the rest of their days. Such people are beneath contempt.

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Since when is "less" a negative?

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I ask the same question as Patrik: is 'less' a negative? Isn't it just the comparative degree of an adverb?

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As MesMom2 argues, not all Americans say "I could care less" when they mean just the opposite. However, I do believe it is only Americans who commonly use this expression. I have travelled extensively throughout English-speaking nations and in no other country is this expression comnmonly used.

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as this is new to me, i defer to others about the historical progression of this discussion. however, please do not paint all americans with one brush. i'm an american and i have always used the phrase "couldn't care less." i am 51 years old and have never, to my recollection, heard the phrase any other way until recently, when my teenage daughters took it upon themselves to correct me. i was taken aback that they scolded me for using what seemed to me a perfectly logical phrase. and i had no idea that i had stumbled over the tip of a grammatical iceburg. also, this notion that "could care less" is a form of sarcasm seems a bit of a red herring. sarcasm is most powerful when the pendulum swings fully in the opposite direction. "could care less" hardly meets that criteria without substantial modification. (and yes, my almost exclusive use of small case letters is intentional, but unrelated to the topic at hand.)

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Well I'm not a tool but I do know 2 things: "less" is not a negative nor is it considered a negative "grammatically" and 2) the expression is "I couldn't care less" and that's final. People try to justify a ludicrous misuse of the expression by claiming it is used sarcastically but that is just blowing smoke. What I do find somewhat puzzling is how you americans can come to alter a perfectly clear, simple English phrase. I mean how? why? beats me.

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I would have to agree with you if it weren't for that wonderful invention called sarcasm!

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wha ?

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To clarify:
If I said "I couldn't care less," then thats what I mean, but if I said "I could care less," then I could mean/say it in a sarcastic way.

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Actually double negatives have nothing at all to do with it. We're sort of off track here.

Think of what you mean when you say the expression. If you say "I could care less," what you mean is it is possible that you could care less. If you say "I couldn't care less," you mean that it is impossible for you to care less.

Think about a comparable case involving "more." You might say "I could have more" (of this wonderful dessert), or you might say "I couldn't have more" (I'm so full already, I could pop).

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Speedwell, I do realise that. I'm just wondering why an English teacher claims that "couldn't care less" is a double negative. Now is it?

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'Less' is considered a negative, grammatically. There are several words that FUNCTION as a negative within a sentence. Less is one of them.

Regardless, it's idiomatic, it's older than most of us, and idiomatic language isn't about logic or mathematics; in other words, who cares.

Anyone who seriously thinks "oh, you must care a little" if someone says 'could care less' to them, is a tool.

Or they're not paying attention.

Or both.

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The English teacher labelling "couldn't care less" as an incorrect double negative is mistaken. For one thing, If he or she were right, that would not justify saying "could care less". It would justify saying "could care more" which is what you get when you cancel the "double negative". Obviously "could care more" (or, even worse, "could care more or the same".) does not convey the same sentiment or have quite the same meaning.

I can care more, I can care less. Not caring more is not the same as caring less, and vice versa. I can eat more. I can eat less. Not eating more is not the same as eating less and vice versa. If I take off my clothes then I can't weigh any less. Saying I can weigh more is irrelevant and does not mean the same thing. Etc., etc.

Oh, and I always thought that "could care less" was just intentionally stating the opposite of "couldn't care less" with the addition of a lot of sarcasm, usually preceded by "oh, like I..." or sometimes "as if I..."

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If I were to say "I could care less" I would mean that I probably could care less if I wished to, but that is beyond my caring-to-do to do it. In other words, as IngishKahn said, sarcasm.

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Well, the Australian version has always been "I couldn't care less." I had only learnt of the other version recently thanks to Australia’s overexposure to American television.

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Earlier, I stated that "I could care less" is just sarcasm, intentionally stating the opposite of "I couldn't care less". Well, for what it's worth, I recently (and lightheartedly) questioned a friend who said 'I could care less". Without missing a beat, he said, "what are you talking about? I know it's the opposite. It's just sarcasm."

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The logical inconsistency of this expression has always bugged me as well. The sarcasm/irony interpretation sounds logical but I doubt most users of the expression are being that sophisticated by intention. My theory is: This is the "contraction effect" at work. The expression has been around so long that you only need to say part of it for people to know what you mean, so the expression is "shrinking" in common usage.

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^^^ I think 'could care less' is the left-over from some more complete statement. When I say it, I say it from the standpoint of: "I could care less, if I cared at all..."

Obviously, no one wants to say all that -- I don't; I'm lazy -- so just "could care less" will do. And when I say it, there's absolutely no confusion as to my meaning. None.

Also, 'less' IS a grammatical negative, which is how it came to be used on your check deposit slips. $___.___ less cash, which means to take away from the cash that you just deposited.

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gay

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I once got into a heated debate about "could care less" versus "couldn't care less". The person with whom I argued stated that "couldn't care less" was a double negative and was improper in the English language. This person was also an English teacher. However, I also agree that the meaning of "couldn't care less" means that the person who makes this comment does not care at all. Any response?

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Language don't got to make no logical sense, especially where idioms are concerned.

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There's a joke that's made the rounds a few times about this.

In some American school, the English teacher addressed the class, "In some languages languages, a double negative means a negative. In other languages, a double negative means a positive. This is possible to do in English, but it is not considered correct. However, there is no language in which a double positive means a negative."

Drawled a student from the back of the room, "Yeah. Right."

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I say "I could care fewer" just to REALLY annoy the grammarians.

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to be honest... "I couldn't care less!"

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