Stop What You Are Doing, Step Away From the Phrase
I know the Fourth Floor news posts are usually a safe haven in which to escape cynicism and criticism but something has been annoying me for a good long while now and I need to vent my fury. Stand well back and put on some goggles.
Okay, so you’ve been warned. Ever heard someone say they could care less? A sample sentence may be: “I could care less if it’s spelled correctly, just send me the e-mail.” Perhaps: “New Iron Man movie? Honestly, I could care less.”
If you ever have heard that then chances are you heard it from an American. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the American people — they’re great. I hate their government and the process by which they elect their leaders with a passion but Americans themselves are awesome. That said, they’re not a nation famous for leaving the English language un-mutilated.
And this isn’t a rant about American English. I don’t give a damn — you can spell colour any way you like. This is more about phraseology. And I can speak with authority on this topic because not only do I speak English, I am English. So let me make this perfectly clear:
It’s I couldn’t care less. COULDN’T. Not could.
Just think about the meaning. If you couldn’t care less, it means it is impossible for you to care any less about whatever you’re talking about. You have 0% caring. You cannot possibly care less. No caring.
If you say “I could care less” you’re saying just the opposite — there is room for less caring. It is possible that you could care less, given enough time. And in fact the implication is that you care a great deal.
Allow me to explain.
It’s a little thing called ironic understatement. Like if you were dying and someone asked how you were and you said “I’ve been better.” It means you’re in a bad way, you’re dying for Christ’s sake. Now if you adored Iron Man, Tony Stark is your Messiah, and someone asked you “Do you really care about the new Iron Man movie?” and you said “Well, I could care less.” You can see how the implication of a great degree of caring can be inferred.
So, just for future reference, the correct way of phrasing is “I couldn’t care less”. It’s not a double negative, it’s called making sense. Other forms include “I couldn’t give a monkey’s toss”, “I couldn’t give two shits”. If you say “I could care less” you’re implying the exact opposite of what you’re trying to say. The ‘n’t’ ain’t silent, guys. You can carry on saying it wrong if you like. But the difference is now you know you’re wrong. But you probably couldn’t care less.