1576: "I Could Care Less"

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1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Steve the Pocket » Fri Sep 11, 2015 4:30 am UTC

Image

Mouseover caption: I literally could care less.



I've tried to unpack just how and why this expression devolved into its exact opposite, and I think I've figured it out. It all comes down to the respective tones of voice you almost can't help but use when you say them out loud. "I couldn't care less", in which every word is stressed, sounds you're making an emphatic statement. "I could care less" sounds more casually dismissive, a fitting tone for someone who does not, in fact, care about something. It's roughly the same cadence as the sentence "I don't give a damn".

Anyway that's my input for this week.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Sep 11, 2015 4:44 am UTC

No, I'm giving you tips on how the individual meanings of your words as arranged do not add up to the intended meaning of your complete expression in the probably-vain hope of encouraging you to help preserve, by your use and subsequent shaping of language, some of the coherence and learnability of the language, so that all that difficult vague gesturing with sounds and scribbles to try to make each other think and feel things can be done with a little tiny bit less difficulty than otherwise in the future.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby slinches » Fri Sep 11, 2015 4:46 am UTC

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

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby da Doctah » Fri Sep 11, 2015 4:58 am UTC

Steve the Pocket wrote:I've tried to unpack just how and why this expression devolved into its exact opposite, and I think I've figured it out.


All you have to do is put a question mark after it and it makes perfect sense. (Cue "I shot the clerk?" business from My Cousin Vinny.)

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby MrNumbers » Fri Sep 11, 2015 5:00 am UTC

Oh dear, it looks like someone brought common sense to a misguided philosophy fight.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Showsni » Fri Sep 11, 2015 5:00 am UTC

Saying you could care less about something is almost as vague as describing a sale as up to 15% or more off...

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby rhomboidal » Fri Sep 11, 2015 5:08 am UTC

She lost me at "glorious chaos." It sounds marvelous, but I have no idea what it means.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby madaco » Fri Sep 11, 2015 5:26 am UTC

Maybe language isn't a formal system,

But if it isn't, I sort of want to make it closer to being one, at least in certain ways.

Sure, language is defined by usage,

But I like certain options for how language can be more than others, so, when it doesn't bother others, I'd like to encourage certain patterns of usage over others.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby keithl » Fri Sep 11, 2015 6:06 am UTC

A formal system is a construct for programming deterministic machines - or imprisoning philosophers in word cages. Properly used, language is a gift that makes positive changes in human brains.

"I couldn't care less" cannot be a true statement - you've got to care a little to even bother to make it. If you cared not at all, you would simply ignore the referenced prior conversation, then change the subject or walk away.

This is quite an insightful xkcd strip when you unpack it.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Sep 11, 2015 6:19 am UTC

a formal system is a tool for communicating unambiguously

some people could stand to be more like deterministic machines and less like fuzzy random number generators

and some philosophers could stand to be confined to word cages instead of sliming around avoiding even letting anyone know what they're saying so that they can avoid being told they're wrong

and i say this as a philosopher. if i'm going to have a philosophical battle royale, i'd prefer it be a cage match than let the other guy run and hide amongst the audience when the heavy hits start swinging.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby orthogon » Fri Sep 11, 2015 6:37 am UTC

Transatlantic perspective: this is an American English thing. Here we say "I couldn't care less". I've noticed that the words "can" and "can't" sound almost identical in US English, and the affirmativity/negativity is indicated by stress: the former is unstressed and the later stressed. I noticed this when a us-English-speaking Taiwanese friend of mine actually wrote "can" in an instant message meaning the opposite. In this expression, is the "could" stressed?
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Plasma_Wolf » Fri Sep 11, 2015 6:42 am UTC

keithl wrote:"I couldn't care less" cannot be a true statement - you've got to care a little to even bother to make it. If you cared not at all, you would simply ignore the referenced prior conversation, then change the subject or walk away.


In that way, "I couldn't care less" shows an even higher intensity of caring than "I don't care". The latter is a claim to care 0 care-units (or in chemical terms "carions"). The first is a statement that is open to guesswork: I care X carions. X is higher than zero but lower than a number that would oblige me to say "I care about that".

In fact, I think that X can be a very high value with "I couldn't care less"' all you give is a lower bound (which is unspecified) and that you are currently at that lower bound. But with the death of your puppy, I'm pretty sure that the lower and the upper bounds are very close together.

rhomboidal wrote:She lost me at "glorious chaos." It sounds marvelous, but I have no idea what it means.

Pretty much the above I think? Now X can achieve any value of carions with "I couldn't care less". :D

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby J L » Fri Sep 11, 2015 6:44 am UTC

The mouseover reminded me of https://xkcd.com/725/ Seems Randall has a problem with language wise-guys.

Still, while sometimes the issues might seem petty, this dislike for exactitude surprises me. Surely, a neglect of syntax is no more praiseworthy than e.g. forgetting algebra (https://xkcd.com/1050/): "Hey, the universe is so complicated, what's the point in calculating anything?"

Generally, as a non-native speaker, having to guess the meaning of a clearly antithetic statement doesn't really make communication any easier.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Steve the Pocket » Fri Sep 11, 2015 6:53 am UTC

orthogon wrote:Transatlantic perspective: this is an American English thing. Here we say "I couldn't care less". I've noticed that the words "can" and "can't" sound almost identical in US English, and the affirmativity/negativity is indicated by stress: the former is unstressed and the later stressed. I noticed this when a us-English-speaking Taiwanese friend of mine actually wrote "can" in an instant message meaning the opposite. In this expression, is the "could" stressed?

It is not, hence my hypothesis above.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby chenille » Fri Sep 11, 2015 7:00 am UTC

Steve the Pocket wrote:I've tried to unpack just how and why this expression devolved into its exact opposite

I had always taken "I could care less" to be the result of sarcasm, a contraction of say "as if I could care less" or "like I could care less". It seems more confusing to me that so many people suppose this phrase must be meant literally and so using it for the opposite can only be a failure of English, like how people used to get hung up on how "bad" could ever mean something good.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby recklesscause » Fri Sep 11, 2015 7:09 am UTC

It's short for 'I could care less, but then I'd have to try.'

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby sotanaht » Fri Sep 11, 2015 7:32 am UTC

I'm reminded of how "Literally" literally doesn't mean "literally" anymore. It also makes the title text that much more confusing.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby saengerbeatle » Fri Sep 11, 2015 7:42 am UTC

Non-Native-Speaker here:
when I first heard this "I could care less" sentence I was quite confused because it is the total opposite of what I thought the person wanted to say. For me it sounded like: "Dude, I totally care and I wish I could care less so I wouldn't care so much anymore."
I even rewinded the scene one or two times to check for sarcasm or something else I had missed, but there was nothing.
After some time I noticed that everybody seemed to say "could" instead of "couldn't". By now I get the meaning and just mentally add the "not" in my head.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby speising » Fri Sep 11, 2015 7:46 am UTC

I'm not sure what Randall wants to say here. "You never know how you're interpreted so you shouldn't even try to be understandable."?
Having agreed upon semantics seems like a really helpful tool.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Wooloomooloo » Fri Sep 11, 2015 7:52 am UTC

Well, no, sorry but you don't get a free pass on this one Randall, irregardless of what your actual intention was there. Language is supposed to let us communicate so many things so flexibly precisely because meaning in a sentence is meant to be derived from the specific relation and meaning of the words composing it. Inventing new words or even slowly changing the meaning of old ones over time is fine in this regard, but arbitrarily reassigning the meaning of a sentence to be the opposite of the meaning its individual words create is simply not acceptable. That way lies madness - count me out.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Feylias » Fri Sep 11, 2015 7:56 am UTC

Nearly any other often-misused phrase would have been better.

"Glorious chaos"? Maybe, but we still managed to put together dictionaries SOMEHOW, even if there was and is some drama involved.

If you're not sure or mistaken about what "decimate" means and use it incorrectly? Whatever; that's fine. I may twitch internally because I'm obsessive, but there's no need for me to get all avuncular on you.

...but if the literal meaning of every one of your words is known to you, and you still didn't consider what the whole of your sentence meant? If you said "It's six and a half of one, and a dozen of the other" to mean that two things were nearly the same? Yes, you can play it off with some cute "But the meaning of words is arbitrary!"

But don't pretend you're making a sincere effort to communicate. You're not trying.

Bah; the point of the strip was "If you're pointing out that I used a word wrong just so you can feel superior, you suck."

I never correct anyone. I feel superior quietly. Because I AM superior. And tired.
Last edited by Feylias on Sat Sep 12, 2015 3:33 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby orthogon » Fri Sep 11, 2015 8:05 am UTC

Steve the Pocket wrote:
orthogon wrote:Transatlantic perspective: this is an American English thing. Here we say "I couldn't care less". I've noticed that the words "can" and "can't" sound almost identical in US English, and the affirmativity/negativity is indicated by stress: the former is unstressed and the later stressed. I noticed this when a us-English-speaking Taiwanese friend of mine actually wrote "can" in an instant message meaning the opposite. In this expression, is the "could" stressed?

It is not, hence my hypothesis above.

Apologies, I fear I gave your post insufficient attention, I didn't expect such insight and analysis in the "frist"! (Though I ought to - the OP often comes up with one the more insightful observations in the whole thread).

Also I ought to have pointed out that "can" and "can't" have different vowel sounds in British English.

A few more possibilities:

1. Are we seeing the start of something like what happened in French, where the semantic negativity is transferred from the original negating word (ne) to another word in the sentence (pas, plus, jamais, ...) to the point that the negative word itself becomes redundant and is practically if not totally silent in speech? So a Parisian would say what sounds like "Il y en a plus"*, which ought to mean "there are more" but in fact they mean "Il n'y en a plus", "there are no more". (I understand that this has led to two pronunciations of plus, with and without the final -s, to distinguish between positive and negative meanings). Presumably, like -'nt, the ne started to get lost in careless speech and the other words stepped into the void.

2. "I could care less [... but not very much less than I do]"

3. The sentence itself is just quite hard to analyse for it's literal meaning: rearranging the negated inequality in your head is liable to give the wrong result. Maybe to some people the "correct" version sounds wronger than the "wrong" version. See also: double negatives.

* In practice the Il would also be practically silent: "yenaplu". And the y would be fairly inaudible too.
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Eternal Density » Fri Sep 11, 2015 8:18 am UTC

John Cleese has this covered:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCUsPnKD1gk
Watch it. Watch it now.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Hiferator » Fri Sep 11, 2015 8:22 am UTC

I guess I'm preaching to the choir here when I say that especially for non-native speakers (or non-US English speakers) this is just an unnecessary obfuscation of meaning, as opposed to the whole "literally"-issue that is just an exaggeration that happens in much the same way in other languages.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby h4rm0ny » Fri Sep 11, 2015 8:47 am UTC

I get that Randall is mocking people for caring about this but it's a rather absolutist argument to say you can't know 100% what someone's intended meaning is therefore it's not supportable to say something sounds dumb.

Anyway, if questions of language are going to be settled with rhetorical flourishes and humour I'm going to see his XKCD diatribe and raise him a David Mitchell.

EDIT: What the Hell? I can't post a link to a video rebuttal on this forum? Have tried YouTube, DailyMotion and the Guardian Website. All trigger a "This message is spam" block. Well no it isn't. Just not everything is text. Fine, just search for 'David Mitchell Dear America' if you're interested.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby h4rm0ny » Fri Sep 11, 2015 8:55 am UTC

Eternal Density wrote:John Cleese has this covered:
EDIT - deleted because even quoting someone who is allowed to post links gets my own flagged as spam.
Watch it. Watch it now.


Huh. How come you can link to YouTube but I can't? Must be a seniority issue. Anyway, thinking about this rather a bit more deeply, and that it is clearly rather barbed, I began to consider what would motivate digs at people who want "couldn't care less" to be used rather than the antithetical to its own meaning "could". And the obvious conclusion is that Randall considers such people to be pedantically picking on others out of a desire to correct them / seem superior. I can't speak for everyone but I don't think that's at all fair. It simply irritates me to hear someone use something that is incorrect. Much the same as it would annoy me to see a misunderstanding of statistics in a news article (something that does in fact annoy me and happens all too frequently). It's not at all a need to correct people for the sake of it or feel superior, it's a love of the English language and the fact that I care about clear meaning. And I think that's reasonable enough.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby orthogon » Fri Sep 11, 2015 9:19 am UTC

xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby h4rm0ny » Fri Sep 11, 2015 9:21 am UTC



I do my happy dance now. :)

It was kind of you to use your greater powers on my behalf. :)

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Echo244 » Fri Sep 11, 2015 9:24 am UTC

As noted in the forum rules, you need 5 posts that haven't been zapped from existence by the moderators before you can post links. Given you're posting here, I do suggest reading the rules.

Anyway, yes, we're blindly flinging words into the darkness etc. etc. but going with the tips on interpreting words things, can we adjust to use "I couldn't care less" as that carries the intended meaning more successfully to a larger number of people?

I mean, I'm all for language being glorious chaos as an unstable accumulation of all our attempts to understand the world, but there's a point where phrases like this are impeding our ability to successfully communicate - if ponytail has to ask, that's a failure of communication. And if you don't care about that, you're closing yourself off from communicating with other human beings so easily, purely on the grounds that you want to define how someone else interprets the things you say.

Rather than an experimentational approach where you adapt what you're saying when someone else doesn't understand, this is rigidly sticking to one's chosen manner of communication even when it's causing confusion. That's why it annoys me - nothing to do with language snobbery, everything to do with the inflexibility when a chosen phrase fails to communicate the intended meaning, and the projection of the problem onto the listener.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby squonk » Fri Sep 11, 2015 9:27 am UTC

Steve the Pocket wrote:Image

Mouseover caption: I literally could care less.



I've tried to unpack just how and why this expression devolved into its exact opposite, and I think I've figured it out. It all comes down to the respective tones of voice you almost can't help but use when you say them out loud. "I couldn't care less", in which every word is stressed, sounds you're making an emphatic statement. "I could care less" sounds more casually dismissive, a fitting tone for someone who does not, in fact, care about something. It's roughly the same cadence as the sentence "I don't give a damn".

Anyway that's my input for this week.

I'm sorry, but this explanation literally does not cut the mustard.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Xenomortis » Fri Sep 11, 2015 9:29 am UTC

When I was a young teenager (13/14), the phrase "I couldn't care less" was one I more than occasionally used (because I was teenager).
Then I heard people say "I could care less" and I was really confused by it. But I was (am) quite literal minded.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Red Hal » Fri Sep 11, 2015 9:30 am UTC

Only two of multiple possible motives are presented; neither are correct. That's if I've understood this comic correctly, and I'm not sure I have. When someone says "I could care less", I mentally append ", but not much." For bonus points, compare with https://xkcd.com/326/
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby nickthefool » Fri Sep 11, 2015 9:44 am UTC

chenille wrote:
Steve the Pocket wrote:I've tried to unpack just how and why this expression devolved into its exact opposite

I had always taken "I could care less" to be the result of sarcasm, a contraction of say "as if I could care less" or "like I could care less". It seems more confusing to me that so many people suppose this phrase must be meant literally and so using it for the opposite can only be a failure of English, like how people used to get hung up on how "bad" could ever mean something good.


I've only been able to make sense of it by assuming that the "could" version must be sarcasm, too, however the people I know who say it never use a sarcastic tone when doing so.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Flumble » Fri Sep 11, 2015 10:00 am UTC

I literally couldn't care less. The universe is deterministic, so every point in history the seed of the universe led to the state I'm in now and this state alone, in which I care exactly the amount I can care.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby sotanaht » Fri Sep 11, 2015 10:01 am UTC

Xenomortis wrote:When I was a young teenager (13/14), the phrase "I couldn't care less" was one I more than occasionally used (because I was teenager).
Then I heard people say "I could care less" and I was really confused by it. But I was (am) quite literal minded.


I just don't use the phrase at all. I'm not sure I ever did. There are plenty of alternatives, including the simple "I don't care" and the more versatile "I don't give a ______". Also, while I don't use it, "I could care" is perfectly valid.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby orthogon » Fri Sep 11, 2015 10:08 am UTC

sotanaht wrote:[...]There are plenty of alternatives, including the simple "I don't care" and the more versatile "I don't give a ______". [...]

Oh, I meant to ask about that: am I right in thinking that "I could give a shit" is also in fairly common usage with a similarly counterliteral meaning?
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby The Moomin » Fri Sep 11, 2015 10:16 am UTC

Maybe they are so invested and emotionally attached to the previous statement, that despite knowing the stress will eventually bring about their demise because of how much they care, they couldn't care less. They have no control over their amount of care.

People that can control how much they care over an event are emotionally dead.

I could care less but choose not to for melodramatical purposes.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby origimbo » Fri Sep 11, 2015 10:18 am UTC

Flumble wrote:I literally couldn't care less. The universe is deterministic, so every point in history the seed of the universe led to the state I'm in now and this state alone, in which I care exactly the amount I can care.


… possibly.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby The Moomin » Fri Sep 11, 2015 10:24 am UTC

sotanaht wrote:
Xenomortis wrote:When I was a young teenager (13/14), the phrase "I couldn't care less" was one I more than occasionally used (because I was teenager).
Then I heard people say "I could care less" and I was really confused by it. But I was (am) quite literal minded.


I just don't use the phrase at all. I'm not sure I ever did. There are plenty of alternatives, including the simple "I don't care" and the more versatile "I don't give a ______". Also, while I don't use it, "I could care" is perfectly valid.


I've always liked "I couldn't give a rat's arse". It implies that there is a situation in which someone thinks the suitable response is to give someone's a rat's arse.

"You've saved Timmy from the well Lassie. Good boy. Here, have a rat's arse."
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby chrisjwmartin » Fri Sep 11, 2015 10:24 am UTC

Damn, Americans are stupid, and obstinate about their stupidity.

Your version of the phrase is wrong, and everyone else looks down on you because you don't even understand your own language: deal with it.


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