by Grammar Girl
Why do people say they could care less when, logically, they mean they couldn’t care less?
In the early 1990s, the well-known Harvard linguist Stephen Pinker argued that the way most people say could care less — the way they emphasize the words — implies they are being ironic or sarcastic. Other linguists have argued that the type of sound at the end of couldn’t is naturally dropped by sloppy or slurring speakers.*
Regardless of the reason people say they could care less, it is one of the more common language peeves because of its illogical nature. People often call in about the error when I’m a guest on radio shows. To say you could care less means you have a bit of caring left, which is not what the speakers seem to intend. The proper couldn’t care less is still the dominant form in print, but a Google Ngram search shows could care less has been steadily gaining ground since its appearance in the 1960s:
Stick with couldn’t care less if you don’t want to irritate people. As Michael Quinion says on his World Wide Words blog, sarcasm “loses its force when put on paper and just ends up looking stupid.”
*The Garner’s Modern American Usage entry cites a 1973 article by Atcheson L. Hench in the journal American Speech.
Mignon Fogarty is the author of Grammar Girl’s 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.