1576: "I Could Care Less"

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Znirk » Tue Sep 15, 2015 9:34 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
xtifr wrote:Language and grammar have rules. You determine those rules by examining the evidence. The evidence is what people say and write. Like most sciences, you have to examine the evidence, form hypotheses, test those hypotheses by gathering and examining further evidence, and gradually form theories, and so on.

That is evidence of what people think is wrong, not evidence of what is wrong.

...? It's evidence of what people do, not what people think. There are also scientists looking at speaker attitudes to language features, but that's not what xtifr describes at all.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby xtifr » Tue Sep 15, 2015 10:01 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
xtifr wrote:Linguistics is a science. The science of language. Language and grammar have rules. You determine those rules by examining the evidence. The evidence is what people say and write. Like most sciences, you have to examine the evidence, form hypotheses, test those hypotheses by gathering and examining further evidence, and gradually form theories, and so on.

That is evidence of what people think is wrong, not evidence of what is wrong. That's all descriptive investigation and so can't say anything about what's right or wrong, which are prescriptive notions.


No, what people think is wrong is very different from what is actually wrong. Prescriptivists regularly say "do not do X", but then in the introduction to their book of prescriptivist poppycock*, they do X several times. Because X isn't actually wrong, and they instinctively know that even though they falsely believe that it is wrong. Prescriptivists, more often than not, aren't even capable of following their own nonsensical rules.

Scientists (I think it's a more appropriate term than descriptivist) can tell what's right and wrong in language usage by examining the evidence. And yes, they can most definitely determine what is wrong. Maybe not perfectly, but more perfectly than any other known approach!

In fact, I prefer the terms "scientist" and "priest" to "descriptivist" and "prescriptivist". It's a lot more accurate. And I'm not particularly interesting in listening to someone spout dogma at me, when that dogma clearly contradicts what science shows. As far as I'm concerned, prescriptivists are about as interesting as creationists. And about as useful to society.

Pfhorrest wrote:It's like trying to tell what's morally right or wrong by examining what behaviors get people censured or punished. That tells you what people's opinions are, but not which (if any) of them are correct.


I partly agree with what you say here, but I suspect I don't agree in the way you want me to. Determining what's morally right or wrong cannot be determined solely from examining what behaviors incur punishment. You also have to look at the behaviors of other animals, consider payoffs from game theory, and compare different cultures to find common elements. And probably a lot more. Science shouldn't limit itself. It's not as simple as you suggest, but it's not magic either. It is wholly amenable to a scientific approach. And religion is only useful in this determination insofar as it provides more data for scientific analysis.

Likewise, learning the rules and grammar of languages is wholly amenable to a scientific approach, and cannot be aided or improved by inserting invented nonsensical rules that are mostly BS—rules which the promulgators typically do not even follow themselves!

Pfhorrest wrote:I think there's kind of a false dichotomy there, which reminds me of Gould's "non-overlapping magisteria", where science is called the approach of describing reality by means of reason and evidence, and religion the approach of prescribing it by dogma and faith. And on that matter I say no, first of all that religion makes plenty of descriptive claims (still appealing to dogma and faith), but more importantly that you can approach prescription with reason and evidence as well (though I'd hesitate to call it "science" for the descriptive connotations that carries).


Um, I side with Gould on this. I have some minor points of disagreement with him, but this isn't one of them. And I don't think the fact that religion makes descriptive claims contradicts the idea at all. The fact that religion makes claims outside of its proper domain doesn't mean those claims are useful or valid or relevant or worth the time of day.

But then you lost me. I may regret this, but can you give me a concrete example of "prescriptivism with reason and evidence"? Because to me, that sounds like an actual contradiction in terms. And I'm really getting the feeling you don't know what prescriptivism is, but I don't have enough evidence to confirm or deny that hypothesis.

And if you can't give me a concrete example, or something a whole lot more solid than "well maybe there's something useful there I think, possibly, perhaps, kinda", then why is your notion worth wasting even a second of my own precious brain processing time on?

Just what, exactly, do you think prescriptivism is?

* Prescriptivist poppycock is a technical term in linguistic jargon, as the link demonstrates. And this may or may not be a joke. :)
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Sep 15, 2015 11:52 am UTC

I'm confrontational because I've been arguing with the brick wall of Pfhorrest's "descriptivists say anything goes!" on and off for years. It gets increasingly frustrating when I and others have explained a thing *repeatedly* and someone continues to act like the incorrect understanding they started with is the only correct one.

For the record, I do thing there are right and wrong in language, and if I explain it only as "(stated to be) thought wrong", then that's an oversimplification and I apologize for any confusion it has caused. What I actually believe is that right and wrong are determined by actual usage, as well as by the response to that usage (which includes but is by no means limited to whether people think something is wrong).
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Copper Bezel » Tue Sep 15, 2015 12:15 pm UTC

I tend to lump it in with "things that are like aesthetics," which, given my interest and partial training in graphic design, quite well includes the possibility of things that are insultingly wrong despite the rightness of things itself being based on conventions and norms of practice.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Sep 15, 2015 12:42 pm UTC

In case anyone's interested in forum history, here are a couple of threads I just dug up:

viewtopic.php?f=25&t=79851 - The thread from early 2012 where I first recall Pfhorrest bringing up their odd account of what descriptivism and prescriptivism are.

viewtopic.php?f=25&t=37789 - A thread from 2009 where I remember arguing pretty strongly against the position that there are (or should be) no rules of English. (I reread the last bit of the first thread and know I still believe the same things, but I didn't reread any of this twice-as-old thread, so it's possible some of my ideas have changed since then.)

- - -

Regarding "thought wrong", I think perhaps being perceived as wrong is necessary but not sufficient for being actually an incorrect use of language.

I have a hard time making sense of the idea that some unique construction is wrong despite no one thinking it's wrong, but I have a very easy time making sense of the converse, where a construction is not wrong despite a group of pedants believing otherwise.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Apeiron » Tue Sep 15, 2015 2:14 pm UTC

This should be called "Randall is a better person than you #7".

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby thepauly » Tue Sep 15, 2015 5:40 pm UTC

slinches wrote:If caring were a quantitatively measurable positive scalar quantity, the value which mine would take in this regard is precisely zero.


This is the crux of the argument for people (such as myself) who claim there is ambiguity in the statement, "I could care less." First, the understanding of "I could care less" depends on an assumed clause: "than I do." That is, most people take the statement to be, "I could care less (than I do)," which, of course, is nonsense. If I don't care, then "care value" = 0.

"Care" has several meanings in English, including "to feel concern or interest; attach importance to something." (the 'I give a shit' definition) and "to show concern". If the speaker is using the word "care" to mean, "to show concern," the statement is intended as "I could care less (than I already have)." We're already discussing the subject of concern. I've shown some minimal interest or concern, I've shown the courtesy of addressing your pointless whine,which is demonstrated by the fact that the subject is being discussed. In this context, there is some level of care. Therefore, the "caring value" > 0. To say, "I could care less" could be taken as "be grateful I'm even acknowledging this crap, because I don't need to."

This is how I picked up the meaning of "I could care less" as a kid, because that's how my dad used it.
Me: Can I have ice cream?
Dad: Nope, you don't need it.
Me: But I've been good, I haven't had ice cream in hours
Dad: You haven't been that good, you had ice cream 20 minutes ago
Me: But dad ...
Dad: Hey, I could care less

TL;DR: I'm not saying "I could care less" is totally legit, but it isn't quite as clear cut as some people think.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby xtifr » Tue Sep 15, 2015 8:20 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Regarding "thought wrong", I think perhaps being perceived as wrong is necessary but not sufficient for being actually an incorrect use of language.


This is, at least in part, because of the existence of dialects and regional variations. One thing you quickly learn when studying linguistics is that your instincts are generally a good first approximation of whether something is right or wrong. But not always. Which is why linguists, in casual discussions about usage, often say things like "This seems wrong to me. Does it work for anyone else?" For online discussions in particular, where you can get a broad and diverse audience, this can be a really useful question to ask.

And a useful answer includes a mention of which regions are likely to have influenced your own speech, and possibly your age, since usage can change over fairly short periods of time. Even if your answer is "no, that doesn't work for me either."

The simple fact is that grammar is something we all internalize. And it's not actually very hard—if it were hard, we'd find some easier mechanism of communication. Grammar exists because it works, for us, a pack of moderately intelligent social apes. And it works because it's relatively easy to share with our neighbors and our children.

The problem arises when people begin telling you that the grammar you've naturally internalized is "wrong." In moderation, this can be useful, since it enforces consistency and norms that do facilitate communication. But taken too far—especially when criticizing constructions you've internalized because they really are widely used—this can lead to a false perception that grammar is hard. The worst case—which is actually the case we have now—is when you have large numbers of self-appointed experts publishing mutually contradictory books about usage and style, filled with inconsistent "rules" that the authors themselves routinely ignore. This leads to whole nations of nervous nellies who are terrified of being wrong, but can't quite figure out what wrong is, and who, when they spot some rule (real or imaginary) that seems to make sense to them, are so proud of their achievement that they want to lord it over those who have the temerity to ignore the supposed rule. Hence the whole "grammar nazi" phenomenon this comic indirectly raises.

I won't even get into the classist and even racist assumptions inherent in many prescriptivist works. Prescriptivists actively make the world a worse place.

thepauly wrote:We're already discussing the subject of concern. I've shown some minimal interest or concern, I've shown the courtesy of addressing your pointless whine,which is demonstrated by the fact that the subject is being discussed. In this context, there is some level of care. Therefore, the "caring value" > 0. To say, "I could care less" could be taken as "be grateful I'm even acknowledging this crap, because I don't need to."


Heh, that's an interesting analysis. It's similar to the sarcasm theory, or the "[as if] I could care less" theory, but different enough to be worth considering on its own, since we really don't know where the idiomatic "could care less" version came from.

Personally, I'm starting to lean towards the theory that it derives from "I couldn't give a shit". That phrase means the same thing when rephrased as "I could give a shit." But if you start to say, "I couldn't give a shit", and then realize that "shit" is not appropriate term for your current audience, you can cast around for a more polite rephrasing, and easily come up with "I couldn't care less." And now that you've established that this is an easy way to politely say what you really mean, you may find yourself using it even when you've started to say "I could give a shit" instead of "I couldn't".

But really, there could be multiple factors in the rise of this admittedly counterintuitive idiom. So I'm always happy to hear new suggestions.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Copper Bezel » Tue Sep 15, 2015 8:29 pm UTC

I would guess that the aural qualities actually drove the choice to drop the n't, and then all of these alternative interpretations came afterward, but it really is just a guess. I've always preferred the assumed-implied "but it'd be hard" sort of interpretation, myself, but it seemed artificial. Suppose it's just as possible that we started with some form of deadpan or sarcastic "I could care less" and others adjusted it to "couldn't" and we'd still end up where we are now - a question mark or emphasis pattern could have been lost even before the idiom sort of fully ossified into the language.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Sep 15, 2015 8:37 pm UTC

xtifr wrote:
thepauly wrote:We're already discussing the subject of concern. I've shown some minimal interest or concern, I've shown the courtesy of addressing your pointless whine,which is demonstrated by the fact that the subject is being discussed. In this context, there is some level of care. Therefore, the "caring value" > 0. To say, "I could care less" could be taken as "be grateful I'm even acknowledging this crap, because I don't need to."
Heh, that's an interesting analysis. It's similar to the sarcasm theory, or the "[as if] I could care less" theory, but different enough to be worth considering on its own, since we really don't know where the idiomatic "could care less" version came from.

Personally, I'm starting to lean towards the theory that it derives from "I couldn't give a shit". That phrase means the same thing when rephrased as "I could give a shit." But if you start to say, "I couldn't give a shit", and then realize that "shit" is not appropriate term for your current audience, you can cast around for a more polite rephrasing, and easily come up with "I couldn't care less." And now that you've established that this is an easy way to politely say what you really mean, you may find yourself using it even when you've started to say "I could give a shit" instead of "I couldn't".

But really, there could be multiple factors in the rise of this admittedly counterintuitive idiom. So I'm always happy to hear new suggestions.
I feel like self-censorship of "I could give a shit" is a less likely explanation than that we lost the negative by analogy to "I could give a shit".

(Interestingly, the Corpus of Global Web-Based English suggests "I could give a shit" is also much more common in the US than the UK, just like "I could care less". So now I wonder which affirmative version became popular first.)
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby lgw » Tue Sep 15, 2015 9:16 pm UTC

I used "I could care less" as a form of nerd sniping for years, but these days I like "I give approximately 0 fucks about that" better.

gmalivuk wrote:For the record, I do thing there are right and wrong in language, and if I explain it only as "(stated to be) thought wrong", then that's an oversimplification and I apologize for any confusion it has caused. What I actually believe is that right and wrong are determined by actual usage, as well as by the response to that usage (which includes but is by no means limited to whether people think something is wrong).


I like this. Your definition of "right usage" is very similar to "successful communication" (causing the person who receives the communication to think what you intended, which may have everything or nothing to do with the content of the communication). I hadn't thought of it that way before, but I like it.

For example, correct usage depends a lot on how formal the context is. If your listeners expect formally-correct usage and style, and you don't deliver that, they may be too distracted by that fact to pay attention to your message. OTOH, in a very informal context, playing with the language can be half the point - "correct usage" is a very different animal if you're chatting to pass the time, and not to communicate some detailed idea.

Poetic language is another good example: wonderful in a context where it's appreciated, horribly distracting where it's not.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Sep 15, 2015 9:36 pm UTC

lgw wrote:I used "I could care less" as a form of nerd sniping for years, but these days I like "I give approximately 0 fucks about that" better.
You've still got prepositions at the end of sentences, countable "less", restrictive "which", and using the object pronoun after "than" to snipe pedants with, at least.

gmalivuk wrote:For the record, I do thing there are right and wrong in language, and if I explain it only as "(stated to be) thought wrong", then that's an oversimplification and I apologize for any confusion it has caused. What I actually believe is that right and wrong are determined by actual usage, as well as by the response to that usage (which includes but is by no means limited to whether people think something is wrong).
I like this. Your definition of "right usage" is very similar to "successful communication" (causing the person who receives the communication to think what you intended, which may have everything or nothing to do with the content of the communication). I hadn't thought of it that way before, but I like it.
Yeah, and I think I do have Pfhorrest to thank indirectly for that way of putting it, since I believe it was in this thread that I really solidified that particular explanation.
In the last post of that thread, I wrote:What I mean to convey to people with a speech act is never solely the barest literal logical proposition denoted by the words I use. If one has any goals beyond the audience understanding a simple logical proposition, which I contend is always the case, then those other goals are also relevant in judging the "correctness" of an utterance.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby rmsgrey » Tue Sep 15, 2015 9:39 pm UTC

An interesting model is one where caring is non-quantised and non-zero - there, no matter how little you care, it's always possible to care half as much. In that model, "I could care less" is technically more correct than "I couldn't care less" though the interpretation as "I care very little" is still fairly non-literal.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Copper Bezel » Wed Sep 16, 2015 12:10 am UTC

I think any attempt to extend the "more" and "less" concept into a number line metaphor is doomed to failure.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby xtifr » Wed Sep 16, 2015 5:02 am UTC

lgw wrote:I used "I could care less" as a form of nerd sniping for years, but these days I like "I give approximately 0 fucks about that" better.


William Gibson did one of the best takes I've seen on that, in his novel The Peripheral:

William Gibson wrote:“Look like you’ve come up short on the number of fucks you need to not give,” Janice said, appearing out of the crowd with a beer of her own.


Just wrap your head around that for a bit. I'll wait. :D
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby orthogon » Wed Sep 16, 2015 7:52 am UTC

rmsgrey wrote:An interesting model is one where caring is non-quantised and non-zero - there, no matter how little you care, it's always possible to care half as much. In that model, "I could care less" is technically more correct than "I couldn't care less" though the interpretation as "I care very little" is still fairly non-literal.

In that model, though, "I could care less" conveys no information. It's only technically correct in the sense of being true of any amount of caring. It could be the most or the least important thing to you. Not to mention that open intervals are pretty unintuitive. (To me, at least!)

When it comes to the giving of shits, there's an additional subtlety. Whereas "care less" constructions are always in the conditional, shit-giving can also be phrased in the simple present indicative. In fact my guess, without access to a desktop computer, is that "I don't give a shit/damn" is the original, and "I couldn't give a shit" has been influenced by "couldn't care less". Also, "I don't give a shit" is a proper negative whose meaning is inverted if the "not" is omitted. At least in the 90s you could describe that fellow student who runs the university branch of Amnesty and spends all her time organising charity events as "someone who gives a shit".
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby The Moomin » Wed Sep 16, 2015 9:49 am UTC

orthogon wrote:
xtifr wrote:People say, "I am here", but nobody ever says "he am here" except with humorous intent or [...]

I wanted to link to a sketch from Series 4 Episode 4 of Absolutely but Channel 4 are exercising their rights and you have to watch it on 4 On Demand. Anyway, I have used the phrase "What in Swansea are going on here?" regularly since watching it in the 90s. (Perhaps that could become an idiom?)


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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby oauitam » Wed Sep 16, 2015 11:31 am UTC

This is an aside to the debate, but put here where I imagine xtifr will find it;
xtifr wrote:If you don't want descriptivists to criticize you, go out and prescribe things that are true. Subject-verb agreement is a good one. There's hardly any exceptions at all to that. Heck, I can't name one, and tracking down bizarre language quirks is a major hobby of mine! :mrgreen:

Have a listen to the Black Country dialect, found in the centre of England.

I encounter lovely forms of the common verb "to be" whenever I work there. Here are examples of the present, indicative;
I am, you am, he am, her am, it am, we am, you am, they am

Add in some other features of the dialect and you can get things like the beautiful phrase I was lucky enough to hear for myself once; "Her'm giving it to she."
It took me a second or two to translate into my dialect equivalent, "She's giving it to her."
I suppose I could add data to the debate by letting you know that my listening train of thought suffers a similar, but briefer, stumble as I consciously inwardly translate hearing "I could care less" into my equivalent "I couldn't care less".

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby CharlieP » Wed Sep 16, 2015 12:17 pm UTC

oauitam wrote:I encounter lovely forms of the common verb "to be" whenever I work there. Here are examples of the present, indicative;
I am, you am, he am, her am, it am, we am, you am, they am


Yorkshire English is similarly restricted when it comes to the simple past tense:

I wa', you wa', he wa', she wa', it wa', we wa', you wa', they wa'.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Copper Bezel » Wed Sep 16, 2015 2:36 pm UTC

orthogon wrote:
rmsgrey wrote:An interesting model is one where caring is non-quantised and non-zero - there, no matter how little you care, it's always possible to care half as much. In that model, "I could care less" is technically more correct than "I couldn't care less" though the interpretation as "I care very little" is still fairly non-literal.

In that model, though, "I could care less" conveys no information. It's only technically correct in the sense of being true of any amount of caring. It could be the most or the least important thing to you. Not to mention that open intervals are pretty unintuitive. (To me, at least!)

When it comes to the giving of shits, there's an additional subtlety. Whereas "care less" constructions are always in the conditional, shit-giving can also be phrased in the simple present indicative. In fact my guess, without access to a desktop computer, is that "I don't give a shit/damn" is the original, and "I couldn't give a shit" has been influenced by "couldn't care less". Also, "I don't give a shit" is a proper negative whose meaning is inverted if the "not" is omitted. At least in the 90s you could describe that fellow student who runs the university branch of Amnesty and spends all her time organising charity events as "someone who gives a shit".

Well, yeah, "I give a shit" implies "unlike others who do not, I care a little." A shit is a modicum of caring. "I could care less" also indicates that a modicum of caring is granted, but emphasizes how trivial it is as opposed to its difference with an implied sea of people who care still less.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby orthogon » Wed Sep 16, 2015 4:24 pm UTC

oauitam wrote:Have a listen to the Black Country dialect, found in the centre of England.

I encounter lovely forms of the common verb "to be" whenever I work there. Here are examples of the present, indicative;
I am, you am, he am, her am, it am, we am, you am, they am

Add in some other features of the dialect and you can get things like the beautiful phrase I was lucky enough to hear for myself once; "Her'm giving it to she."
It took me a second or two to translate into my dialect equivalent, "She's giving it to her."

My mum's family are from Worcestershire, and a friend of my grandmother's used to say something that sounded like "youm". At the time I assumed it was his second person pronoun, but now i read this, I wonder whether he might have been saying "you'm", a contraction of "you am". He also talked once about "a hundred hundred". I don't know whether that was a dialect thing or whether he was mathematically and linguistically eccentric. I have no idea what happened to him, though he probably left the scene when my gran remarried. Now, decades later, he's become a caricature in my memory, a kind of grotesque like some ludicrously implausible Archers character.
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Sep 16, 2015 5:02 pm UTC

orthogon wrote:At the time I assumed it was his second person pronoun, but now i read this, I wonder whether he might have been saying "you'm", a contraction of "you am".
If he was saying "you am", wouldn't you have noticed the missing "are" you were expecting?

If you didn't, it seems it could indeed have been a pronoun, either to mark plural (the way some people use "y'all" or "yins" or "yous"), or to mark objects (by analogy with he/him and they/them).
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby thepauly » Wed Sep 16, 2015 5:18 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:I would guess that the aural qualities actually drove the choice to drop the n't, and then all of these alternative interpretations came afterward, but it really is just a guess.


I find your idea totally plausible. In my case, my youthful mind found a way to reconcile my father telling me he could care less, when it was readily apparent he didn't care at all (about the subject, that is. I'm pretty sure he did give a shit about me).

rmsgrey wrote:An interesting model is one where caring is non-quantised and non-zero - there, no matter how little you care, it's always possible to care half as much. In that model, "I could care less" is technically more correct than "I couldn't care less" though the interpretation as "I care very little" is still fairly non-literal.


This. Thanks for the brevity, and the maths.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby xtifr » Wed Sep 16, 2015 9:39 pm UTC

orthogon wrote:When it comes to the giving of shits, there's an additional subtlety. Whereas "care less" constructions are always in the conditional, shit-giving can also be phrased in the simple present indicative. In fact my guess, without access to a desktop computer, is that "I don't give a shit/damn" is the original, and "I couldn't give a shit" has been influenced by "couldn't care less". Also, "I don't give a shit" is a proper negative whose meaning is inverted if the "not" is omitted. At least in the 90s you could describe that fellow student who runs the university branch of Amnesty and spends all her time organising charity events as "someone who gives a shit".


"Care less" constructions were always in the conditional. There evidence of a growing tendency to say things like "he didn't care less about that", meaning, literally, he didn't give a damn. I even saw a case using parallel construction that I cannot imagine was meant to be interpreted any other way: "he didn't give a damn about X, he didn't care less about Y; he was going to do Z."

I suspect you're correct about the historical order of events, though.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby GuesssWho » Thu Sep 17, 2015 1:24 pm UTC

Yeah, this is a pet peeve of mine. If you could care less you obviously fucking care.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby orthogon » Thu Sep 17, 2015 1:35 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
orthogon wrote:At the time I assumed it was his second person pronoun, but now i read this, I wonder whether he might have been saying "you'm", a contraction of "you am".
If he was saying "you am", wouldn't you have noticed the missing "are" you were expecting?

If you didn't, it seems it could indeed have been a pronoun, either to mark plural (the way some people use "y'all" or "yins" or "yous"), or to mark objects (by analogy with he/him and they/them).

You're right; I was going to go on to say that it would require further nonstandard syntax to explain why it could be followed by an auxiliary verb, as in the particular utterance I'm remembering. Unfortunately "you" was the subject pronoun in that case, otherwise the idea of it being an object case pronoun would be very exciting. I think it was probably just a phonological thing. The lips following "you" are extremely close to the position for "m" already.
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby ManaUser » Fri Sep 18, 2015 4:53 am UTC

It's a perfectly valid phrase, as long as you mean that you could care less.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Sep 18, 2015 2:04 pm UTC

Every word in that sentence has changed meaning since its origin, but somehow the words "could care less" can only have one meaning ever?
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Copper Bezel » Fri Sep 18, 2015 2:45 pm UTC

It really doesn't have to be correct or incorrect. It can be economic and useful or inelegant and to be avoided regardless of which of those things someone wants to say it is.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Whizbang » Fri Sep 18, 2015 2:46 pm UTC

I couldn't care more or less.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby doogly » Fri Sep 18, 2015 4:24 pm UTC

"I could care less" is perfectly reasonable. Other fuckers are bad at sarcasm, we are not bad at grammar.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Sep 18, 2015 5:26 pm UTC

I don't think it's sarcasm as stated (the intonation seems like it would be different), but it is if you assume an elided "like" or "as if" before.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby doogly » Fri Sep 18, 2015 5:40 pm UTC

One can use this phrase without acid disapproval? Or a dismissive eyeroll?

Like, my point is that of course it means the opposite of what is literally denoted by the text. That is the point, you are doing a language thing. See also: literally! If someone is literally confused about what this word means and not just doing a playful language thing, there could be some gentle reminders in order. If someone gets pissy whenever they hear it, they get a >:(
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Sep 18, 2015 6:48 pm UTC

But is the disapproval and dismissiveness because of sarcasm, or because of not caring at all about the thing?

I don't generally buy the sarcasm account (of either the origin or the present widespread use) because it seems like sarcasm requires conscious and intentional use of a phrase that literally means the *strong* opposite of what the sarcast means. "I could care less," I believe, fails both prongs: It isn't uttered with the intentional understanding that it means the opposite, and it isn't a strong opposite.

(Where the strong opposite of "I care zero amount" would be "I care a very large amount", whereas in this case we just have "I care a nonzero amount".)

When I want to be sarcastic about not caring, I say things like, "Oh yes, this is definitely the most important thing we should be worrying about right now." I say, "I could care less" when I'm not really thinking about it (since it's the more natural alternative in my dialect), or when I am thinking about it and I want to piss off prescriptivist hacks.
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I am with you, of course, on the more general fact that people who object to "could care less" fail to understand some pretty basic things about how language works. I just don't think sarcasm has to be one of the things they don't understand, because I don't think sarcasm is gpthe best explanation for how most people actually use the phrase.
Last edited by gmalivuk on Fri Sep 18, 2015 6:55 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby doogly » Fri Sep 18, 2015 6:53 pm UTC

Restricting sarcasm to strong opposites is amateurish. But it probably is more likely population-wide that people just miss that they are missing a not.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Sep 18, 2015 6:56 pm UTC

Well yeah, I'm not necessarily talking about people as expert about sarcasm as you and I are, just about the general population of "could care less" speakers.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby orthogon » Fri Sep 18, 2015 7:19 pm UTC

Damn, now I don't know whether to take what either of you is saying at face value;-)
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby doogly » Fri Sep 18, 2015 7:21 pm UTC

You totally can, I have a very expressive face 8-)
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Copper Bezel » Fri Sep 18, 2015 8:22 pm UTC

I have to admit that with the phrase already existing as an ossified idiom, attempts to jerry-rig literal sense into it by intonation or whatnot annoy me a little (where I don't notice the idiom used in its vanilla form at all.)
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Ermes Marana » Sat Sep 19, 2015 12:23 am UTC

I don’t give a damn.
I could give a damn.
I could give a damn (but I don't).
I couldn't give a damn.

These all mean the same thing. My guess is that people started using "I could care less" because they knew it meant the same thing in other phrases, but didn't realize that it was stupid in the new phrase.

I couldn't care less.
I couldn't care less if I tried.

I could care less.
I could care less if I tried.

These don't mean the same thing. The rationalizations are more annoying than the phrase itself. I have almost never heard it said sarcastically or in the form of a question. Such attempted justifications instead serve as admissions of stupidity.

However, let's take it for granted that it is used sarcastically or in the form of a question. Now it makes sense, sure. But it still doesn't mean the same thing. Because this usage is aimed at the person you are conversing with, rather than at the subject.

I couldn't care less = I don't care about the subject.

I could care less (if genuinely used in the manner people claim) = I don't care about you, including not caring enough to tell you if I care about the subject.


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