Grammar Points #1: ‘Couldn’t Care Less’ vs. ‘Could Care Less’


brady-yellingTom Brady, still no doubt peeved after losing the AFC Championship to the Denver Broncos on Jan. 19, told reporters last week that he has no big plans on Super Bowl Sunday: “I could care less about watching the game.”

I’m not one to mess with Tom Brady, but I’d like to ask him: “Gee, Tom, do you mean you really could care less? You have more care to give?”

Brady isn’t the only person incorrectly using “could care less” and “couldn’t care less” interchangeably these days. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and actor/singer Mandy Patinkin also have forgotten their grammar in recent weeks. Writers all-too-frequently fall into the “could care less” trap, too — including Huffington Post entertainment blogger David Fagin, TIME magazine tech reporter Matt Peckham and even a promotional copywriter for a Hy-Vee supermarket in Marion, Iowa.

Here’s the rule, straight from Dictionary.com’s Word FAQs:

The expression “I could not care less” originally meant “it would be impossible for me to care less than I do because I do not care at all.” It was originally a British saying and came to the U.S. in the 1950s. It is senseless to transform it into the now-common “I could care less.” If you could care less, that means you care at least a little. The original is quite sarcastic and the other form is clearly nonsense. The inverted form “I could care less” was coined in the U.S. and is found only here, recorded in print by 1966. The question is, something caused the negative to vanish even while the original form of the expression was still very much in vogue and available for comparison — so what was it? There are other American English expressions that have a similar sarcastic inversion of an apparent sense, such as “Tell me about it!,” which usually means “Don’t tell me about it, because I know all about it already.”

Clearly, writers, public figures and everyday people don’t already know all about the differences between “couldn’t care less” and “could care less.” Do you? Or don’t you care?

 

 

 

 


About Michael Popke

Michael Popke owns Two Lakes Media Group and is an award-winning journalist with 25 years of experience in print/digital media as a newspaper reporter, B-to-B magazine/online newsletter editor, social media content generator, freelance writer, book editor and music critic.

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