Why yes, I COULD care less

I could care a great deal less about, say, the fact that people use “I could care less” when what they mean is “I could NOT care less.” When you say “I could care less,” what you are saying is that you do, in fact care to some degree. I have never heard anyone say “I could care less” who actually meant “I could care less.” I always want to reply, “You could care less. But you don’t.” (FYI: how to lose friends and generally alienate people? Change “want to” to “do.” Nobody loves a language snob. Except here on WordGeeks.)

A descriptivist, however, would argue here that since everybody (except for persnickety SNOOTS and their ilk) understands “I could care less” to mean “I could not care less,” then there is no point in making the above point, and me and my inner Mrs. Grundy can go hang.

And indeed, Garner’s Language Change Index puts “I could care less” at a 3:

“(‘widespread but . . .’): The form becomes commonplace even among many well-educated people but is still avoided in careful usage…”

What, you ask (not yet having followed the above link) is Garner’s Language Change Index? It can be found in the wonderful Garner’s Modern American Usage, Third Edition. As Bryan A. Garner himself describes it, “Its purpose is to measure how widely accepted various linguistic innovations have become.” The use of “impact” as a verb (stage 3), for example, or “hopefully” as a sentence adverb (stage 4, although with AP throwing in the towel on this one recently, looks like we’ve gone stage 5).

The Language Change Index runs accordingly:

  1.  “rejected”
  2. “widely shunned”
  3. “widespread but…”
  4. “ubiquitous but…”
  5. “fully accepted”
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3 thoughts on “Why yes, I COULD care less

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