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Really? Could you?

I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am, by how often I hear this in daily speech. It happens when people are trying to express their disdain or indifference toward something. They want to communicate as emphatically as they can that they have no interest whatsoever in a particular event or opinion or person. They want you to know that there is nothing that ranks lower on their list of priorities. They want to say that they are entirely oblivious to something that others may consider important. So they say:

“I could care less what he thinks about me.”

“I could care less what is happening in Syria at this time.”

“Mike reminded me of the Yankees’ score last night, but I could care less.”

No one, I assume, wants to say the opposite of what he/she intends. All of us want to communicate clearly, especially when it comes to our deepest feelings or the things we value most highly. When we are captivated by something or offended by it, when we are interested or bored, when we want to express our utter disdain or dislike for something or someone, we want our speech to be interpreted accurately.

That being the case, why do we in this instance say the opposite of what is in our hearts or on our minds? If you genuinely don’t care what someone thinks about you, say so:

“I couldn’t (i.e., could not) care less what he thinks about me.”

When you say you “couldn’t care less” you are declaring that nothing interests you less than this thing or opinion or event. You are making known your utter disdain for it. No matter how hard you might try, there isn’t any way you could care less about it than you currently do.

So, if there isn’t any way you could care any less than you do, that is to say, if you could not care less than you do, why do you say “I could care less”? To say the latter is actually to say precisely the opposite of what you mean or intend.

I realize that some of you could care less about this, and that’s good! It means that you at least care a little bit about good grammar. If you “couldn’t” care less, then I’d be worried.

(with assistance from Dean Bertsch)


Thank you Sam for your fervent devotion to proper grammar! I don't think that I use this phrase enough to know whether I have been using it improperly, but it is a good reminder to be clear with our speech.

A good way to remember this one is to add, "…if I tried" to the end.
As in, "I couldn't care less if I tried." "I could care less if I tried" is clearly not what we're trying to convey.

This is one of those things that really bothers me too, brother.

Hi Sam - you'll love this video by a British comedian, which makes that very point.

You sound like a Brit!

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