An occasional outlet for my thoughts on life, technology, motorcycles, backpacking, kayaking, skydiving...

Monday, May 22, 2006

So you are saying that you DO care?

The part of speech used in:
I could care less used incorrectly. Unfortunately this is often the case. I see this done all the time and it drives me crazy. As a child I misunderstood the intended meaning for years due to its frequent misuse. I would often hear "I could care less" and "I couldn't care less". I assumed that they were properly used and that their meanings were opposite. It took me years to discover that the only difference between them, as irony would hold, is that one was used "with care" and one was used "without care".

If you ignore what you understand "could care less" to mean, and evaluate it as if hearing it for the first time you will realize that it is making a statement exactly opposite of what you wish to convey.

In order to do something less, you must currently be doing that something to a magnitude which would allow you withdraw slightly without ceasing all together.

If I am juggling (one handed) three balls in the air, I "could juggle less" by subtracting one of the balls. I would then be juggling two balls. (juggling two balls two handed isn't REALLY juggling.) But at this point I "could NOT juggle less." If I were to remove one of the balls, I would then be tossing one ball in the air, which is certainly not juggling.

So, to convey your message, you must say "could not care less". This literally means one cares none or next to none.

Thank you for listening, and choose your words wisely. (People are judging you by them.)


  1. > Thank you for listening, and choose your words wisely. (People are judging you them.)

    Yes, yes they are.

  2. That's funny! I read your post the day you made it, and several times since. I was completely unable to see that the word "by" was missing. Every time I would read it, my brain would insert the word "by". It wasn't until just now that I caught it.

    I used to be the same way about missing semicolons in my code. Now, I can detect a missing semicolon or unbalanced quotes and braces while scrolling. I doubt I will ever have mastery over the English language.

  3. The only problem with your example is that you haven't taken into account the difference in the verbal phrase that is being used. Grammatically, the "juggle" is a Material verb. It requires an Actor (unless the Actor is ellipsed in the passive). Juggle, since it is a Material verb, has a starting and stopping point. In other words, it is bound. There is a clear starting and stopping point for the phenomenon. You can watch someone juggle and actually see the "juggling" with your eyes. However, "care" is a Mental verb. It has no clear boundary. It is like saying "I believe." It is not bound with a clear starting and stopping point. You can't watch someone "care"; you can watch someone act upon the caring they feel but can't see them "care" like you see them "juggle" (no more than you can see someone love (You could certainly see them "make" love; but then make would be the verb, not love). So the argument is flawed. You in fact CAN love less. Also, if you have three juggling balls and say you could "juggle less" and then are left with only two. Could you not still be "juggling less"? But, what are you juggling less of?...the balls, not the juggling. You CAN care less because you CAN have less care for somehow. Caring is a "gradable" verb.

  4. You are correct that my analogy is flawed. It is, however, an improvement over my usual practice of illustrating points with blatant and sarcastically ridiculous analogies. I do still hold to my statement that when people use the phrase, "I could care less", they are stating that "they do somewhat care" when they intend to say "they do not care at all". Would you agree?

  5. Sure. I buy that they don't mean that. But that is overlooking almost every possible way in which we use language everyday. Language functions this way much more often than we like to acknowledge. For example, say you and a bunch of friends are going drinking at a club tonight and you need a DD. One of your friends says, "John is on antibiotics." This is totally off the subject, and it's not what your friend means at all. What he/she actually means is that John is the best possible candidate for the DD position because he's on antibiotics and most of us know that when someone is prescribed antibiotics they aren't supposed to consume alcohol. So did your friend lie? Not at all. But he said something that was totally not meant that way. But that's the beauty of language and one aspect that separates us from the animal world. So regardless what "I could care less" looks like it means, it is entirely interpretable by all native speakers of English and has explicit meaning. That's what the purpose of language "mean." And that's what this statement does, it has a perfectly recognizable meaning and is never misinterpreted by the hearer. It does exactly what its supposed to do, regardless of how it actually looks.

  6. Alright, Richard. I have to confess. I know you. My post was more in fun than actually having an argument. This is Josh Iddings. I'm not sure if you actually remember me from high school; I'm pretty sure we had Rossbach for Latin one year. I stumbled upon your site in a round-a-bout way because I was looking at the Huntington Howebrewers Association website and saw a Mike Bronosky and his email address was at I knew for sure, once I visited the brewer's site, that there must be some relational between you and Mr. Bronosky. So I checked to see what was, and bam, there you were. Congratulations on your pregnancy. My wife and I have an 8 month old and it is amazing. You're going to have a blast. It's good to see that you are doing well.