post

Grammatical Jeopardy – Couldn’t Care Less or Could Care Less

Jeopardy 1

photo credit: Shawn M. Smith

This is Grammatical Jeopardy!

Host: Today’s categories:  You’re on Your Way; Easy To Lose Loose Change; The Truth About Lie and Lay; They’re There With Their Wares; Who’s Whose; and finally, Butchered Common Phrases.  Let’s play…

Contestant A: Give me Butchered Common Phrases for $200.

Host: A common phrase used to express a complete lack of interest, concern or caring.

Contestant B: What is “could care less”?

Host: No.  [waits for another contestant to ring in…]  The correct answer is “couldn’t care less”.

Using the phrase “could care less” actually means that one does, in fact, possess a measurable level of caring, concern or interest of a given situation and is contradictory to the context in which that phrase is commonly used.  The use of “could care less”, in fact, expresses that one does care, have an interest, or a level of concern about a topic or situation.

Attempting to convey a position that one has no interest or concern would require the use of the phrase “couldn’t care less”, which indicates a state of mind completely devoid of caring, interest or concern.  If one cannot care less, the indication is a level at which one could not possibly care less because he/she already does not care at all.

Incorrect usage: “I could care less what he thinks…” – meaning one does care and possesses a measurable level of caring from which feeling could be subtracted.

Correct usage: “I couldn’t care less what he thinks…” – meaning one does not care at all and thus it would be impossible to care any less or subtract feeling where none exists.

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About Alysson

I'm snarky, progressive and profane. Known throughout search marketing circles as SEOAly, I provide affordable small business website design and SEO services. My allegiance is not to religion or political party, but to having a positive impact on those around me & leaving the world a little bit better place than I found it.

Comments

  1. Hunter Workman says:

    Also, since we’re all stating our grievances with how other people speak, a few of my biggest pet peeves are people thinking “lay” and “lie” are interchangeable and that “allusion” only exists to make the dictionary a little bit longer. I’m actually really glad that I was doubtful enough in my own knowledge (a rare occurrence, I assure you) to look this “could/couldn’t care less” issue up. I never knew there were so many other people who felt the same way about spoken and written language as I do. I’ve always strongly believed that humans will eventually return to communicating through a series of grunts and whistles. They’ll call it “Neanderthal swag”, and it will be the next “big fad”. There really should be some sort of society for people like us. It would make everything much easier.

    • Believe me, Hunter…I’ve got a long list of pet peeves, as well. That’s probably the reason my “Grammatical Jeopardy” category only contains one post thus far. I fear that if I let myself get started and on a roll, I’ll never get anything else accomplished! This post gets a surprising about of traffic, so you’re certainly not the only one who wondered whether it was “could” or “couldn’t”.

      By the way, “Neanderthal swag”…hilarious! :) Well, it’s hilarious now. The humor may be lost when your prediction comes true. ;)

  2. Hunter Workman says:

    I’m a bit of a grammar buff myself, so I like to say things correctly whenever possible. This was one of those phrases I was on the fence about. I knew that “I could care less” made no sense, but I thought it may be one of those things that has a history behind it, giving it meaning. It’s nice to see I’ve been saying it correctly. It’s also very convenient that this post was so easy to find. Saved me time asking around.

  3. Great post! I never say “could care less” because I don’t want people to think I’m an idiot. However, while I am not a fan of its use, I’d argue that it is not technically incorrect to say it. It is an American colloquialism and has become generally accepted over time. BTW – my favorite is when people use “Astigmatism” when they mean “stigma”. I swear I have heard this at least 3 times.

    • I see what you’re saying, Hal, but I have to disagree. Based on the meaning of the words in context, it simply does not make sense to say “I could care less” for the reasons I’ve detailed above. Colloquialism or not, words are either used accurately or inaccurately based on their meanings. I’ve not heard “Astigmatism” in place of “stigma” – though I’m pretty sure I’d literally laugh out loud. At least “Astigmatism” is actually a word…unlike “irregardless”. Thanks for stopping by! :)

  4. Loved it and it’s amazing to me that people are so angry about it. Wow. I’ll be following you on twitter now. Love love the witty banter! Good job!

  5. You guys are a bunch of jerks. I pride myself on being gramatically correct whenever possible, but I would never demean another person based on such a trivial aspect of life. As long as I’m able to easily understand what they’re trying to communicate (which is the entire purpose of grammar in the first place), then I could/couldn’t care less if the minor details are perfect. You should all be ashamed of yourselves, take a good step back and a long look in the mirror at who you should really be condescending towards and looking down your noses at.

    • You are entitled to your opinion. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Bro chill out. Don’t catch feelings over a website. Call them a bunch of “jerks”. This was just to clarify to either those who weren’t sure which one was correct, or to settle a “grammatical dispute”, if you will. No need in tearing up because you used the wrong one. Using the correct one helps in communicating to those who over analyze a phrase or saying they don’t often hear, and eliminate the chance of a miscommunication. If you “pride yourself” in grammatical correctness then just fix it and get over it. If you stop replying to anything ever, I will personally purchase you a box of tissues to wipe your tears over this.

  6. Debbie Bryant says:

    Well Alysson, let’s not forget the now famous Obama pronunciation of the word ‘corpsman’ over and over and over. Sorry. There is no audible P sound as it’s quite silent. I will just chalk that up to his lack of attention to what he’s saying (much like you referenced W’s mispronunciation of the word ‘nuclear.’) The only difference in us here is that, unlike you, I will not attribute Obama’s mispronunciation of the word (and subsequent words) to the ‘nonsensical left-wing’s approach to manufacturing facts.’ I’ll just blame Obama, and it would be nice if you would just blame Bush rather than everyone who believes differently from you.

    • My problem is not with those who believe differently. I have plenty of conservative friends with whom I engage in spirited, fact-based, respectful debates (many on Twitter) on a regular basis. My problem is with those who base their beliefs and opinions on the lies spoon fed to them by the Fox News propaganda machine without actually caring about accuracy or bothering to research the facts for themselves. We’re all entitled to our own opinions. But facts are facts. And until we agree to operate based on facts, logic and reason, we will all continue to suffer the consequences of a legislature that is embarrassingly incapable of governing or even carrying on a substantive debate of the issues.

      This is not about conservative ideology vs. liberal ideology. Liberals and Conservatives have always disagreed about how to govern this nation, but they haven’t always operated on two different planes of existence. They may not have seen eye-to-eye about how to get there, but like the bleeding-heart liberals of the world, most in the Republican party of generations past actually cared about the average American citizen. Today, that’s not the case. The modern day GOP is controlled entirely by the wealthiest and most unapologetically avarice-driven forces on the planet. Notice I said “on the planet”, not “in America”.

      The extreme right has taken Congress, and by extension all of us, hostage. It is not Bush’s mispronunciation of the word “nuclear” that is the problem. It is merely an illustration of the GOP’s allegiance to that which is false. Combine that with a remarkable ability distort and, in some cases, completely rewrite history, as well as unrepentant loyalty to the party leadership no matter how inaccurate, absurd, malicious, manipulative or purposefully misleading their message may be and you have today’s GOP.

      Believe differently. Please. The best solutions never come from one side or the other, but from a combination of ideas that come from a diverse pool of perspectives. But base those opinions and the resulting arguments on facts, reason and rational thinking…not the grammatically incorrect and misspelled signs from Tea Party protests.

  7. Linguistic abuse is rampant, and often discussed in great detail over here: http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/pedants_corner

    • Yep…I see several threads that are specific to grammar, punctuation and spelling at first glance. Thanks for sharing!

  8. I have a great IDEAL! Let’s get everyone to use the proper word for having a thought rather than the adjective! Idea is often pronouced ideal….two different words people!! And I couldn’t care less who I offend by bringing this subject up!! LOL

    • HAHA! You’re so right, Alicia. The list of grammatical pet peeves gets a bit longer every day. In fact, there’s another one…every day vs. everyday. :)

    • R. Gieselmann says:

      Honestly, you (all of you) need to get a life. Your posts are both arrogant and absurd. Don’t you know that pronunciation exists to serve communication, and in almost every instance of mispronunciation that you so condescendingly mention, the person mispronouncing is communicating adequately? Again, get a life.

      • It is your contention that to strive for accuracy and expect others to do the same is tantamount to arrogance. Words serve a purpose, as do their meanings. Using them properly requires intelligence.

        Your attitude is symptomatic of a larger problem that plagues our society, which is that “close enough” is adequate. It is this attitude that leads to the belief that simply making false statements repeatedly transforms those falsehoods into truth. Or that participation alone makes one deserving of a trophy. What incentive is there to endeavor toward excellence when those who put forth only a modicum of effort enjoy the same honors as those who are unwilling to accept that average is acceptable?

        It is an incredibly simple a concept. Either you pronounce or use a word properly or you do not. There is no gray area. The only thing I find absurd is that you took the time to comment when you had nothing constructive to contribute to the conversation. You may be content in your belief that inaccurate pronunciation and grammatical missteps have no negative impact on one’s ability to communicate effectively, but I must respectfully disagree.

        • I don’t know why but I HAD to read your previous reply in an angry British accent. It was the only way it sounded proper.

          • Good call. You’re absolutely right. It does seem to have more impact if the voice in your head has a British accent. I’ll bet that many will now scroll back up just to read that comment again in a British accent. And most will agree with you. :)

  9. Kevin McIntyre says:

    One of the mistakes I hear most often from people in a profession that should know better, news reporters , is the mistaken use of the word “less”. Here in Houston we have a Rodeo as a yearly event, and one way the Rodeo’s success is measured is by attendance numbers. Every year a reporter will say. “There were 10,000 “less” people in attendance than last year. ” Not only does it sound wrong, it IS wrong. When a measurement is quantified by numbers the term “fewer” is the proper word to use.
    ” There were 10,000 fewer people in attendance as compared to last year.” Whew, glad I got that off my chest.

    • You’re right, Kevin. TBS is an offender, as well. Every time I see one of their “More Movie, Less Commercials” spots I just have to laugh. Surely SOMEONE at TBS knows enough about grammar to know that…right?!?

      It just goes to show that if the mistaken masses accept and use a word improperly often enough, those who market to them will respond in kind.

  10. How about adding “Real-a-ter” rather than realtor?

  11. Now, how about the whole “I” versus “Me” argument… I hate it when I hear something like this, “Those presents are for my sister and I.”… “Daddy cared for my brother and I”… “This is for you and I”. Argh!!! This totally drives me (and I) bonkers!!!

  12. JEW(EL)-LA-REE is the correct pronunciation of the word in British/Australian/NZ English, where the word is spelled “jewellery”.

  13. The phrase “could care less” is peculiar to Americans; I have not heard used it by any other English speakers; they would be puzzled as to what was actually meant.

    And talking of imbecilic mispronunciations: I hear “mischievous” pronounced MIS-CHEE-VEE-US, “coupon” as KYOO-PON and jewelry as JEW-LA-REE – all obviously wrong (if you can read).

    Then there’s the apostrophe or, rather, the malapostrophe! It’s been misused for ages on plural nouns (sorry, noun’s) but now it’s creeping into verbs, e.g. “she let’s the dog out” or “the ball roll’s down the hill”. WTF?

    I better stop now.

    • That list could go on indefinitely. Let’s not forget the most infamous massacre of the English language committed by George W. Bush by insisting that the word “nuclear” is actually pronounced “NOO-KYOO-LER”. Really, President McDumbass? I’m certain you’re pronouncing that WRONG.

      That said, my ultimate goal is to make a series of “Grammatical Jeopardy” posts.

      • Gretchen Tombes says:

        Perhaps it is a southern thing: Jimmy Carter butcher “nuclear” way before George W.

        • You’re right, Gretchen. But where someone is from is no excuse for butchering the English language. Republican or Democrat, mispronouncing words reflects badly on one’s intelligence.

  14. Totally agree. Other sites say the incorrect way is now accepted but I’ll go to my grave thinking that people who say “I could care less” are uneducated fools.

    • Agreed. Thanks to the idiocy that is George W. Bush, the word “nucular” is now supposedly accepted as correct, rather than what is actually correct – which is “NUCLEAR”. An imbecile unapologetically mispronouncing a word over and over and over again is apparently enough to render what is incorrect suddenly wholly acceptable. Who knew? I guess it worked with weapons of mass destruction, so why shouldn’t the same nonsensical right-wing approach to manufacturing the facts to fit their purpose work with language and grammar, as well…

  15. Which is why I tend NOT to use to contracted version of “couldn’t”, instead use “could not”. Not only is it better for business writing, but it emphasizes the lack of caring in general. :)
    .-= Monica Wright´s last blog ..I Am Only As Good As My Network =-.

    • I tend to be of like mind with you there, Monica…depending on my audience and purpose of my writing. I completely agree that choosing “could not care less” is more appropriate for business writing. On the other hand, circumstances in which referencing the common phrase is appropriate often present themselves in more informal settings. Opting for the contraction is fine in those instances, provided it is use correctly!

  16. You had me at “Grammatical Jeopardy.”

    As a fellow Grammar Nazi, I appreciate this post. :)
    .-= Stacy Lukasavitz´s last blog ..Be careful whom you “unfriend” =-.

  17. Yeah, these kind of topics concern me a lot these days, thanks for the short and nice article. I couldn’t care more what I think to do about my grammar (business writing in general).
    .-= Khaled Elsehsah´s last blog ..Remember this =-.

  18. Alysson,

    It’s so nice of you to help the less grammatically gifted. Or are they the more grammatically challenged?
    .-= Alan Bleiweiss´s last blog ..Rent My Torso @ SMX West 2010 =-.

    • Glad to help. And I’d tend to believe that “grammatically challenged”, rather than “grammatically gifted”. Being gifted insinuates some sort of innate tendency toward being grammatically correct. There’s also a dash of anal-retentive and obsessive-complusive that comes along with being so attentive to details like grammar and punctuation. ;)

      • People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Commas and periods belong inside quotation marks. Look it up.

        • Don’t look now, but your geographical arrogance is showing. If you took a moment to look it up, you’d find that placing punctuation within quotation marks is unique to American English. Even so, logic suggests that in many circumstances placing punctuation after a closing quotation mark simply makes sense based on the context of the sentence. Placing a comma outside quotation marks is no more incorrect than the use of an “s” rather than a “z” in words like “realise” or “standardise”, which – like punctuation positioned outside quotation marks – you’ll find in British English.

          If you care to learn more, here’s an easy to absorb article from Slate.com on this very topic: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_good_word/2011/05/the_rise_of_logical_punctuation.single.html

          It is also important to note that grammar and punctuation are two decidedly different things. A misplaced comma, unlike a misused or omitted word, does not change the fundamental meaning of a sentence or phrase.

          • Hunter Workman says:

            I disagree, to a certain extent. Although misused and neglected words are frequent, I find that misplaced and forgotten punctuation is much more common, most noticeably when writing, of course. Commas are especially troublesome. When they are neglected, the meaning of what is being said can almost not be determined, since the tone of speech has a lot to do with its meaning. When someone uses a word that they feel is “close enough”, it is usually still pretty easy to figure out what they’re saying. I wish I could think of an example to illustrate my point, but, unfortunately, I’m drawing blanks. I’m sure someone knows what I’m trying to say and can make it easier to understand. There are times when the proper words escape me.

            • I don’t disagree that one’s audience is likely to be able to decipher the meaning of a statement even when the wrong word is used. However, I find that when it comes to the spoken word, mispronunciation is typically, but not always, indicative of two things: 1) ignorance; and/or 2) lack of attention to detail.

              As for the written word, I completely understand. Many people don’t seem to understand that one of the purposes of punctuation is to help convey the tone that is lost when not communicating verbally. I believe this article from About.com helps to illustrate your point and the importance of proper punctuation: http://grammar.about.com/od/punctuationandmechanics/a/punctmatters07.htm

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