Archive for February 18th, 2012

18
Feb
12

Things You Say That Irritate Language Nerds: Part II

Several people chimed in to tell me they enjoyed my “Things You Say That Irritate Language Nerds” post from a few days ago, and that they wanted more. Never let it be said that I’m above blatantly pandering for attention, friends. I’m stepping up with another installment. But I’m also in a bit of a rush today — Erin is coming in for Mardi Gras, so I don’t have too long to spend on this one. I’m afraid today’s gripe is a bit of a softball…

Today’s Episode: “I could care less…”

You’ve probably noticed this yourself, how this phrase doesn’t really make any sense, but I’m sure many of you have never quite stopped to think about what’s wrong with it. That’s why I’m here, friends.

When someone says “I could care less,” they are typically using the phrase in a derisive way, so as to indicate they do not care at all about whatever the topic of conversation is:

EXAMPLE 1:

BOB: “Hey, did you hear that the Lions are in town?”
BILL: “I could care less about football.”
BOB: “Actually, I meant literal Lions. They’re eating your grandmother right now.”

In this exchange, Bill’s intention is to indicate that he does not care about football. But that’s not what he’s saying. He’s saying “I could care less.” This means that on some level he has to care, because otherwise, caring less would be impossible. Whether he cares just a teeny bit or whether he cares immensely is unknown, because by its very nature this statement could be applied at any point of the caring spectrum above zero percent.

To illustrate this point, imagine a large plate of bacon. Bob has just cooked an entire slab and, unless Bill is a godless communist, he’s going to want some.

EXAMPLE 2:

BOB: “Hey, Bill, want some bacon?”
BILL: “I could eat some bacon.”

And he can. Because the bacon is there and Bob is kind enough to offer some to Bill, even though he was kind of a pretentious jerk in Example 1. So Bob and Bill go back and forth until, alas, there is no more bacon. This is a sad event in anyone’s life, of course, but it’s inevitable, as the natural consequence of the existence of bacon is that people will eat bacon until there is no more bacon to be eaten. But Bill, whose phone rang during the meal and he had to step outside because he didn’t want his Vegan girlfriend to hear the sound of bacon being chewed, is unaware of this when he returns to the room.

EXAMPLE 3:

BILL: “Can I have some more bacon?”
BOB: “I couldn’t give you more bacon.”

And Bob can’t. Because the bacon is gone. And now everybody is sad.

Anyway, try to imagine that “caring” is something that could be counted physically, like strips of crispy bacon. If Bill says “I couldn’t care less,” he’s saying that there is no caring to be had in regards to the subject at hand, which is what the person who says this always means. But when Bill says, “I could care less,” he is implying that there are, in fact, strips of caring still available, which is clearly not what he intends.

So, to summarize:

  • Say “I couldn’t care less” if the point you’re trying to make is that you don’t care about a subject.
  • Only say “I could care less” if the subject is something you have feelings about, but wish that you didn’t. Basically, this is the attitude of the film Brokeback Mountain.
  • Now that the bacon is gone, it’s Bill’s turn to supply the next plate of bacon. It’s only fair.



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