Talk:could care less

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The following discussion has been moved from Wiktionary:Requests for verification.

Please do not re-nominate for verification without comprehensive reasons for doing so.

Surely not. Jooge 20:20, 14 August 2006 (UTC)

Yes, but not exactly - to say "I could care less" implies that I could, but not by much, making it effectively a synonym of "I could not care less." bd2412 T 20:32, 14 August 2006 (UTC)
Redefined to avoid being loopy. Pardon my pun. bd2412 T 20:39, 14 August 2006 (UTC)
  • This is very hard to find citations of use for; the first couple pages of all point to usage guides prescribing against using this form of the cliché (while at the same time acknowledging that it is very common.) In informal writing and speech in America, the other synonymous cliché "couln't care less" is rare. Apparently, in formal writing, it is about a 50/50 split...accoding to some of the usage guides I peeked at. (Note to self: next time I need a quick, broad list of usage guides, repeat this search.) --Connel MacKenzie 08:15, 15 August 2006 (UTC)
  • I had always assumed it was New York Jewish influenced, and originally had a question mark - "I could care less?" SemperBlotto 08:19, 15 August 2006 (UTC)
Added cites. Jeffqyzt 00:58, 16 August 2006 (UTC)
I'd say we can call this "verified" now... bd2412 T 01:19, 16 August 2006 (UTC)

Pinker talks about this one in The Language Instinct, IIRC, but my copy isn't handy. —scs 12:47, 17 August 2006 (UTC)

Removed RfV. DAVilla 23:33, 18 August 2006 (UTC)


Although often used in error both in speech and print, this is a malapropism; however, an editor chose to edit war and remove this information in this edit. If one "could care less" it would mean that s/he cares quite a bit, but if one couldn't care less (the appropriate phrase) it would mean that s/he cares so little that it would be impossible to care any less. That is the precise definition of malapropism. Please restore the fact that this is a commonly used malapropism to this entry and use "Discussion" rather than edit warring. 23:58, 31 October 2011 (UTC)

Not at all clear that this is a malapropism[edit]

The Etymology section currently reads in full:

"Clipping of "couldn't care less", which is literally accurate (having no ability to care less). It is a malapropism, due to the literal meaning of this version being the opposite of the meaning."

But where I suspect this phrase originated — Brooklyn, New York — sarcasm is deeply embedded in how people speak. I grew up nearby and often heard the phrase used with sarcasm, in other words, deliberately meaning the opposite of the phrase's literal meaning. Just as when people say "That's just wonderful," when they mean the exact opposite.

By now, I suspect, users of this phrase are unlikely to have given much thought to its possibly sarcastic origins. But they know its place in the language: its ultimate meaning and its sarcastic connotations.

Conclusion: It may be entirely mistaken to believe this phrase is a malapropism — an error — when it very well may have arisen in the same way as "That's just wonderful" did.Daqu (talk) 17:26, 23 May 2014 (UTC)

Interesting idea, but whereas somebody might genuinely say that something was wonderful, nobody would inform you that they actually "could care less" about something than they do. For that reason it seems unlikely to me. Sarcasm doesn't just involve negating a phrase, but in saying a (normal, believable) phrase that isn't really meant. Equinox 19:22, 22 May 2014 (UTC)
Well, for what it's worth, I just learned by googling that Steven Pinker has the exact same take on the phrase as I (independently) do, in The Language Instinct and in a 1994 New Republic article. To quote him:
"A tin ear for stress and melody, and an obliviousness to the principles of discourse and rhetoric, are important tools of the trade for the language maven. Consider an alleged atrocity committed by today's youth: the expression I could care less. The teenagers are trying to express disdain, the adults note, in which case they should be saying I couldn't care less. If they could care less than they do, that means that they really do care, the opposite of what they are trying to say. But if these dudes would stop ragging on teenagers and scope out the construction, they would see that their argument is bogus. [Here PInker tries to illustrate typographically the difference in stresses and rising and falling tones, which I cannot reproduce in Wikipedia.] The melodies and stresses are completely different, and for a good reason. The second version is not illogical, it's sarcastic."
When this was written in the 1990s, it was a bit off to attribute the phrase to "today's youth", since the phrase was already widespread among kids in Brooklyn in the 1950s, and apparently became nationally widespread in the U.S. by the 1960s.)Daqu (talk) 17:26, 23 May 2014 (UTC)
P.S. Equinox, sorry I overlooked your point. But I'm not sure I agree with it. There are plenty of sarcastic phrases that immediately distinguish themselves from non-sarcastic speech, even ignoring intonation: "Sure, sure!", or "That's great, that's just great!","Oh, I certainly believe that!" and others.Daqu (talk) 17:55, 23 May 2014 (UTC)