Silly Philology | “I Could Care Less”

I get confused when people say, “I could care less.”

I mean, I guess I know what they’re trying to say, they’re trying convey their disinterest in whatever they’re interlocutor has said or asked. But in actuality, the phrase “I could care less” doesn’t really tell anyone much of anything.

Ok, cool, so you could care less, but where are you on the spectrum of caring. Saying you “could care less” can mean anything from you caring the most amount possible all the way down to one degree above caring zero percent. When you say “I could care less” all you’re really saying is that you care some degree more than zero percent.

If you want to make the point I think you want to make- that you’re apathetic or even aggressively disinterested in something- you need to say the opposite of “I could care less”. If you told me you couldn’t care less then I’d know where you stand. “Oh, wow! Josh said he couldn’t care less where we eat, that means he really doesn’t care, I totally know where that dude stands on the topic.”

I know you might be thinking, “Park, this is all just semantics”, but semantics is the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning. So what you’re really saying is: “Park, this is all just a study in meaning”. To which I’d reply: “amen”.

See, we keep using words and phrases that mean the opposite of what we want them to mean and then we try to make a point with the wrong words. If you think this exercise is of little value or importance then you should say, “this is all just banal- trite- unimportant- insignificant” rather than “this is all just semantics”. Just as when you want to convey your disinterest you should say “I couldn’t care less” rather than “I could care less”.

“I couldn’t care less” = I am at the maximum amount of not caring; I care so little that it’s impossible for me to care any less. I couldn’t! Not even if you had a gun to my head. I’m literally unable to muster any more disregard. This is actually saying something whereas, “I could care less” is dumb. What a pointless thing to say.

People usually say “I could care less” when they’re in a heated argument but it undermines their whole point of view. “I could care less what you think, Park, you jerk!”. Ok, well why would I care what you think if you’re not even going to be careful enough with your words to make sense.

It’s not the biggest deal in the world, I guess, but it’s pretty ridiculous that we use two completely opposite phrases to convey they same meaning. Let’s be better than that.

Maybe you think I’m being snide or overly critical, and that’s alright, I couldn’t care less what you think.

2 thoughts on “Silly Philology | “I Could Care Less”

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  1. Have you read any works of Basil Gildersleeve? He was a primary founder of John’s Hopkins and his purpose was so pastors would be users of words instead of victims of the misuse of them.


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