1576: "I Could Care Less"

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Sep 11, 2015 4:55 pm UTC

Even if the universe were strictly deterministic, in any case we have limited, imperfect knowledge of it, so modal concepts like "maybe" are still fully applicable in an epistemic sense.

Ask me a question about a solved higher mathematics problem I'm not familiar with and my answer will be "maybe". That doesn't mean there's anything nondeterministic about the math; it means my knowledge of it is incomplete.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby h4rm0ny » Fri Sep 11, 2015 4:58 pm UTC

alanbbent wrote:I've learned not to correct people's language anymore, since it's as pointless as arguing Apple vs. Android. When people correct my grammar and word usage, it fascinates me and I immediately change how I speak. But that's because I enjoy that stuff. Other people loathe having to adhere to language rules, and they respond very negatively to people who enjoy it. I've damaged friendships by correcting language, especially in that other country.


I'm generally of the opinion that rules should either not be broken, or broken good and hard. Someone who knows what they're doing and has found the rules getting in their way? Go ahead and break them. Someone who breaks the rules because they find the rules hard to live up to. In essence I'd put it as "James Joyce knows his shit".

The average person who can't follow grammar or semantics, it's for other reasons.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Whizbang » Fri Sep 11, 2015 4:58 pm UTC

I like, on occasion, to use the phrase, "I could care more".

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Wiz » Fri Sep 11, 2015 5:12 pm UTC

When I first heard about this phrase "I could care less", I was confused. How can anyone even think it means "I care very little"?

Then, slowly, I realized from the way it was being said that what they mean is something like "I would prefer not to have to deal with this topic even as long as we already have". More succinctly, "I could do with having to care less". Even more succinctly, "I could care less".

Do I like it? Heck no, I'm so used to "I couldn't care less", it always takes me a split second to adjust when I hear what sounds like the opposite. I even find it annoying at times. But it isn't wrong by any means, it's just that the word "could" is used in a different sense. Indeed the entry in my favourite online dictionary (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/could) is sufficient to explain both usages.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Whizbang » Fri Sep 11, 2015 5:18 pm UTC

I think people are over-thinking the source of "I could care less". So let me do the same.

Obviously the original expression was "couldn't". As you can clearly see, this is a contraction. Contractions occur because people speak fast. It stands to reason, and indeed is commonly observed, that people will even speak shortened versions of contractions. Often the "n't" is very soft and quick. It is not a stretch at all to go from, "couldn't" to "could". From there it just take enough people hearing the truncated form enough times that it becomes the norm, or at least a common alternative.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby rmsgrey » Fri Sep 11, 2015 5:21 pm UTC

Some common language constructs cause me physical discomfort (as a psychosomatic reaction) - correcting them, while mostly futile, is an attempt to avoid pain.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby speising » Fri Sep 11, 2015 5:24 pm UTC

Whizbang wrote:I think people are over-thinking the source of "I could care less". So let me do the same.

Obviously the original expression was "couldn't". As you can clearly see, this is a contraction. Contractions occur because people speak fast. It stands to reason, and indeed is commonly observed, that people will even speak shortened versions of contractions. Often the "n't" is very soft and quick. It is not a stretch at all to go from, "couldn't" to "could". From there it just take enough people hearing the truncated form enough times that it becomes the norm, or at least a common alternative.

Except that i feel that "couldn't care" makes for a much better cadence than "could care". It's easier to speak.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Whizbang » Fri Sep 11, 2015 5:55 pm UTC

I find the transition from the "uld" sound to the "nt" sound cumbersome, and often find myself softening either the "d" or the "t". Added to this is a tendency to generally soften the ending "t" sound to a more "d" sound or even just a sort of stuttered pause, and you get a garbled word that can easily be mistaken for "could".

Also, it is an extra syllable. Gotta preserve those syllables (for science!).

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby origimbo » Fri Sep 11, 2015 6:11 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:Even if the universe were strictly deterministic, in any case we have limited, imperfect knowledge of it, so modal concepts like "maybe" are still fully applicable in an epistemic sense.

Ask me a question about a solved higher mathematics problem I'm not familiar with and my answer will be "maybe". That doesn't mean there's anything nondeterministic about the math; it means my knowledge of it is incomplete.



So in that case maybe would mean something akin to "my actor doesn't have the knowledge to know for certain not". Interesting, I wonder how far up most people's definitions list that comes. My personal top definition is probably "No, for people you need to be polite to".

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby orthogon » Fri Sep 11, 2015 6:13 pm UTC

I don't think anybody has mentioned the glottal stop yet, so I'm going to mention it. Could the transatlantic difference be related to the prevalence of the glottal stop in British English, which takes the place of the 't' and might make the transition easier, or at least make the "n't" less likely to go missing?
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby project2051 » Fri Sep 11, 2015 6:27 pm UTC

I could care less.
But I don't care enough to make the effort to go full not caring.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Jackpot777 » Fri Sep 11, 2015 6:52 pm UTC

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


I'd say it's covered under "the more you spend, the more you save". By Randall's own thought on the subject, which he probably ran off some mathematical table in his head (to determine if spending and saving were proportional, or inversely proportional), he doesn't know what he thinks.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Eshru » Fri Sep 11, 2015 7:25 pm UTC

project2051 wrote:I could care less.
But I don't care enough to make the effort to go full not caring.

When responding to the sort of person who likes to correct things I have more than once said: "I could care less, but that would require effort on my part." The look of getting ready to correct me and then being denied is worth the effort, unlike the topic they're so fixated upon.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Tormuse » Fri Sep 11, 2015 7:37 pm UTC

Whizbang wrote:I like, on occasion, to use the phrase, "I could care more".


I 100% support changing the saying to "I could care more."
I'm not really that patriotic... really!

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Sep 11, 2015 7:56 pm UTC

orthogon wrote:I don't think anybody has mentioned the glottal stop yet, so I'm going to mention it. Could the transatlantic difference be related to the prevalence of the glottal stop in British English, which takes the place of the 't' and might make the transition easier, or at least make the "n't" less likely to go missing?

I was right about to say something about glottal stops too, but sort of opposite of you as far as who speaks how.

I'm from California and when I'm speaking quickly or loosely (like, for example, about things I couldn't care less about), my "couldn't" can easily become "coo'n", where that "oo" is as in "book" and the apostrophe is a glottal stop.

Similarly a quick apathetic "could" (like a "yeah I guess we could do that") can become just "coo'". (There's an apostrophe for a glottal stop at the end there, lost in the quotes). So something like "wee koo'du that". The vowel sound can even be lost completely and turn into something like "wee k'du that". If it were a "couldn't" instead, said that lazily, it might be something like "nah wee k'ndu that".

It's a pretty small difference between "coo'n care less" and "coo' care less", but one I don't think I would mishear. Maybe other people though.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Tyndmyr » Fri Sep 11, 2015 8:03 pm UTC

madaco wrote: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.


It's clear enough. In this case, the particular combination of words forms an idiom with a differing meaning than the words themselves would have. There are a ton of idioms like this. If both of you understand the idiom, the communication is clear.

This is not particularly different from words themselves, and their relationship with their roots. Not every word is a direct summation of it's roots.

Language is not SIMPLE, but it can still possess clarity.

J L wrote: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?"


This is because, generally, someone making an objection to this is merely engaging in pedantry in order to feel superior, not actually trying to fix a genuine communication difficulty.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby commodorejohn » Fri Sep 11, 2015 8:37 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:It's clear enough. In this case, the particular combination of words forms an idiom with a differing meaning than the words themselves would have. There are a ton of idioms like this. If both of you understand the idiom, the communication is clear.

But, as has been noted, plenty of people don't understand the idiom - non-Americans apparently uniformly find it baffling, and even in the US it's probably close to an even split. And sure, you can argue that idioms don't necessarily have to answer to a tribunal or anything (and in general I'd strongly agree,) but it's not even a good idiom - it doesn't express anybody's unique cultural style/"local color" or viewpoint, it doesn't have any particular aesthetic merit, and from any reasonable linguistic perspective it amounts to saying exactly the opposite of the thing you intend, without even sarcasm as a justification. It's just dumb.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Bassoon » Fri Sep 11, 2015 8:55 pm UTC

commodorejohn wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:It's clear enough. In this case, the particular combination of words forms an idiom with a differing meaning than the words themselves would have. There are a ton of idioms like this. If both of you understand the idiom, the communication is clear.

But, as has been noted, plenty of people don't understand the idiom - non-Americans apparently uniformly find it baffling, and even in the US it's probably close to an even split. And sure, you can argue that idioms don't necessarily have to answer to a tribunal or anything (and in general I'd strongly agree,) but it's not even a good idiom - it doesn't express anybody's unique cultural style/"local color" or viewpoint, it doesn't have any particular aesthetic merit, and from any reasonable linguistic perspective it amounts to saying exactly the opposite of the thing you intend, without even sarcasm as a justification. It's just dumb.


Idioms, by definition, are A) not universally located, B) not universally intelligible, and C) not necessarily about "unique cultural style." They're about a phrase have a differing meaning from the literal summation of its words and grammar. This is the case for "could not care less." As somebody cited earlier, nobody complains about "totally" as a colloquial word that doesn't reflect its "true" meaning, despite the fact that it certainly has the ability to trip up those unfamiliar with it. If the claim that correcting people is to preserve the sanctity of the English language, then how can we explain posts like this one:

rmsgrey wrote:Some common language constructs cause me physical discomfort (as a psychosomatic reaction) - correcting them, while mostly futile, is an attempt to avoid pain.


which is so smarmy that it straddles the line between pretension and pure, unadulterated condescension? Randall isn't asking for some US-centered exceptionalism regarding the English language: he's asking the jerks on their high horses to step down and live among the common people, who still find a way to communicate even though their grammar isn't what's described in textbooks or necessarily what the summation of words mean. Further, your idea that "everybody doesn't understand it" doesn't even make sense in the context of language -- do you know the meaning of all of the English words? If not, should we abolish the ones you don't?

I feel for the ESL student who has to learn this idiom, however, it's a fairly notable idiom, and thus would be simple to teach or include in a book on idioms. But if we were going to reform English so that other people can learn it, why would we start on this idiom, of all places? Besides, ESL learners haven't had much trouble learning the rest of the language. It's not as if this is some gate-keeping phrase preventing someone from achieving fluency. It's one idiom, and in particular, it's an idiom that hasn't caused any particular harm outside of a little confusion among those who genuinely don't recognize it -- and it's the same confusion any other idiom would create. I'd say most of the harm this idiom causes is from people who keep wandering around being pretentious know-it-alls who demand the sanctity of a language that is known for its fuck-it-all chimeric vocabulary and slapdash grammar. If you want a structured language, go learn lojban.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby da Doctah » Fri Sep 11, 2015 9:18 pm UTC

On other expressions involving caring, I am often advised to wave my hands in the air like I just don't care. This makes less than no sense. If I don't care, my hands are probably going to remain in a dignified attitude at my sides. If they're waving in the air, surely that's an indication that I do care a great deal about something.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby commodorejohn » Fri Sep 11, 2015 9:25 pm UTC

Bassoon wrote:Idioms, by definition, are A) not universally located, B) not universally intelligible, and C) not necessarily about "unique cultural style." They're about a phrase have a differing meaning from the literal summation of its words and grammar.

I'm not arguing that it's not an idiom, I'm arguing that it's a pointless and stupid one.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby JenniferMarshall » Fri Sep 11, 2015 9:31 pm UTC

This is really funny! :lol: :lol: :lol:

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby xtifr » Fri Sep 11, 2015 9:33 pm UTC

commodorejohn wrote:non-Americans apparently uniformly find it baffling, and even in the US it's probably close to an even split.

Neither part of that statement is true. According to people who study large corpora, worldwide usage is evenly split. And, while the "could" version is predominately an American usage, it is by no means exclusively American.

And sure, you can argue that idioms don't necessarily have to answer to a tribunal or anything (and in general I'd strongly agree,) but it's not even a good idiom - it doesn't express anybody's unique cultural style/"local color" or viewpoint, it doesn't have any particular aesthetic merit, and from any reasonable linguistic perspective it amounts to saying exactly the opposite of the thing you intend, without even sarcasm as a justification. It's just dumb.

All of which has precisely zero relevance. It's a hugely widespread idiom, and if you want to be able to communicate effectively with people, especially Americans, you must learn it. Talking about how stupid it is, even if justified1, will not change that fact. You're literally2 tilting at windmills here.

Instead of getting upset when you first learn of this bog-standard idiom, try considering yourself one of today's lucky ten thousand! :mrgreen:

1 And as a supporter of the "it's pretty obviously sarcasm" theory, I don't think you're justified. Sarcasm is fun.

2 Tee hee. Oh, and I thought we covered this before, but the so-called "new" use of literally dates back to the 18th century. And the examples from that far back all come from scholarly works, which suggests it had been part of informal language for far longer. It's not new; it's damn near ancient. And it's not confusing either—or at least, not any more potentially confusing than any of a million other features of English. Linguists have shown that people generally only use the word in its hyperbolic sense when the hyperbole cannot help but be clear. And, of course, the claim that we don't have any other word(s) to express the non-hyperbolic sense is literally nonsense. Really, truly, actually nonsense.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Sep 11, 2015 9:45 pm UTC

On a tangent about "literally", I've noticed a slight trend of some people hypercorrecting themselves and saying "figurative" in place of it. It's really jarring. E.g.:

"...and John got running so late that he was figurative the last person to show up..."
"Wait, what's him being last to class figurative of?"
"Well, I mean, he wasn't literally the last person to show, he was just, you know, really late."
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby freezeblade » Fri Sep 11, 2015 10:02 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:On a tangent about "literally", I've noticed a slight trend of some people hypercorrecting themselves and saying "figurative" in place of it. It's really jarring. E.g.:

"...and John got running so late that he was figurative the last person to show up..."
"Wait, what's him being last to class figurative of?"
"Well, I mean, he wasn't literally the last person to show, he was just, you know, really late."


That literally made me curl my lip up in condesension. I would judge this person so hard.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby h4rm0ny » Sat Sep 12, 2015 12:48 am UTC

Whizbang wrote:I find the transition from the "uld" sound to the "nt" sound cumbersome, and often find myself softening either the "d" or the "t". Added to this is a tendency to generally soften the ending "t" sound to a more "d" sound or even just a sort of stuttered pause, and you get a garbled word that can easily be mistaken for "could".

Also, it is an extra syllable. Gotta preserve those syllables (for science!).


I think the word for this is 'mumbling'. ;)

da Doctah wrote:On other expressions involving caring, I am often advised to wave my hands in the air like I just don't care. This makes less than no sense. If I don't care, my hands are probably going to remain in a dignified attitude at my sides. If they're waving in the air, surely that's an indication that I do care a great deal about something.


I think the suggestion is to not care what other people think of you. Which is, except in certain situations such as fires, generally a pre-requisite for waving your hands in the air.

Bassoon wrote:Randall isn't asking for some US-centered exceptionalism regarding the English language: he's asking the jerks on their high horses to step down and live among the common people, who still find a way to communicate even though their grammar isn't what's described in textbooks or necessarily what the summation of words mean. Further, your idea that "everybody doesn't understand it" doesn't even make sense in the context of language -- do you know the meaning of all of the English words? If not, should we abolish the ones you don't?


Which is exactly my objection to this comic which I gave right at the start. The idea that liking clear language or accuracy indicates some kind of smugness or pretension. I would say fairly confidently that of the many people here saying this bothers them or that "couldn't care less" is preferable for whatever reason, it's universally because the alternate version bothers us. That's certainly true for me. So naturally I dislike your presumption that you know why we dislike the term and telling us that it is because we're on a high-horse. In fact, when I hear it I more usually don't correct people in order to avoid hurting feelings or coming across as arrogant even though what they're saying makes my teeth grind and distracts me to no end. Both you and the comic are making the kind of insulting implication that trying to clear up this wording is because we're arrogant and love showing off our superior knowledge. The comic is explicit in that message, in fact. That's inaccurate and annoying. Many of us just love language and / or also have a love of precision in meaning. Goes with the territory for many of us who are scientists, engineers, writers, etc. Or even just those of us who are aren't familiar with this strange variation that sounds so weird to us.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Plasma Mongoose » Sat Sep 12, 2015 1:49 am UTC

nickthefool wrote:
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.


I just figured that they meant to say "I couldn't care less" but due to the fact that practically every time they hear or read "I could care less" instead, they ended up using the wrong term which is especially noticeable when there is no hint of sarcasm involved.

So if I was ever to use the saying "I could care less", I would make sure there was a clear indication of sarcasm when I say it.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Deadcode » Sat Sep 12, 2015 3:33 am UTC

I've had a growing inkling of this for years, but reading this comic and thread, I now realize that not only does "I could care less" not make sense, but "I couldn't care less" makes no sense either!

I think what a lot of literalists want "I couldn't care less" to mean is, "Nobody could care less than I do." It's pretty clear what that phrase means, because the independent variable is the person doing the caring. Since there are a very large number of people in the world, and it's unspecified whether it even has to be a living person, or even a person who has ever lived, "Nobody could care less than I do" presumably means "I don't care at all" — since it seems inevitable that out of the set of all people, there must be some who don't care at all.

But the problem with "I couldn't care less" is, the independent variable, i.e. the hypothetical "_____" in "I couldn't care less [if _____]", is completely unspecified. Who is doing the caring is a constant; no matter what the hypothetical is, the "I" in "I couldn't care less" has to still be the speaker.

So what is the hypothetical?
1. If some events in the past had happened differently? How far in the past? Recent? Or possibly going all the way back to the Big Bang? Presumably a corresponding "I" has to exist in this hypothetical alternate timeline, otherwise "how much I care about X" is undefined there. How similar does that "I" have to be to me for it to count? The further in the past the divergence in that hypothetical timeline happened, the less of an argument there is for that corresponding "I" actually being me.
2. If I decided to attempt to care less? What exactly is involved in attempting to care less about something? If I am capable of deciding to care less about X (and then executing that decision and actually caring about X by that reduced amount), did I ever actually care about X by the non-reduced amount?
3. If I start behaving as if I care less, i.e. pretend to care less, even though my amount of caring hasn't actually changed? Well then it's kind of a tautology that my amount of caring is unchanged and that I don't care less... making "I couldn't care less" meaningless in this case.
4. If a quantum fluctuation, or cosmic ray hitting my brain, suddenly changed my amount of caring? It's conceivable that such an event could have any effect on me, even changing my core identity, thus this would make "I couldn't care less" mean I don't care at all (the same as "Nobody could care less than I do").
5. If you asked me how much I care at a different point in time?

Note that in #3 and #4, I don't actually have to care at all about how much I care; these are only hypotheticals, so it's only hypothetical-me who must care at least the bare minimum needed to try to care less, or to pretend to care less.

Also, as stated earlier in the thread:
Plasma_Wolf wrote:In fact, I think that X [the amount of caring] 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.
This means even less, of course, in light of the fact that the independent variable is also unspecified — so we don't even know what function this is the lower bound of, or what would move the amount of caring between its upper and lower bounds.


So... both "I could care less" and "I couldn't care less" are meaningless if analyzed literally. Basically, I would argue they both must be treated as idiomatic phrases. Which of the two a speaker chooses to say doesn't tell you how much they care (or don't care), but rather, how much they care about logic... because although neither of them truly has its intended meaning if analyzed literally, "I couldn't care less" is at least closer to its intended meaning. All you must do to make "I couldn't care less" mean what it means to mean is append "than any randomly chosen person" at the end. But to make "I could care less" mean what it means to mean, you must both make that change, and change "could" to "couldn't".


Addressing some other comments:
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.
No. "How much I care" is a different thing than "how much I care about how much I care", or "how much I care about your being informed of how much I care". The fact that I'm saying "I couldn't care less" only proves that I care enough about informing you of how much I care that I find it worthwhile to make the statement "I couldn't care less."

Red Hal wrote:When someone says "I could care less", I mentally append ", but not much."
This is quite unsatisfying... it still leaves the question completely open of what would need to be different for them to care less by that small amount... and why they're stressing that their amount of caring is mutable, rather than stressing that their amount of caring is small in the first place. If we're going for exotic methods of modifying "I could care less" to mean what it means to mean without interpreting "could" as "couldn't" (via sarcasm, or contraction), then I would prefer "I could care less... but I don't care enough about how much I care to bother caring less — and the fact that I care so little about how much I care is directly correlated with how little I care in the first place. And I didn't care enough about informing you of how much I care to bother saying more than the first four words of that statement." Or perhaps "I could care less, and would like to do so. I am endeavoring to asymptotically approach my theoretical minimum amount of caring, so as we speak, I have just now decreased it a little bit more."

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby orthogon » Sat Sep 12, 2015 8:07 am UTC

h4rm0ny wrote:Which is exactly my objection to this comic which I gave right at the start. The idea that liking clear language or accuracy indicates some kind of smugness or pretension. I would say fairly confidently that of the many people here saying this bothers them or that "couldn't care less" is preferable for whatever reason, it's universally because the alternate version bothers us. That's certainly true for me. So naturally I dislike your presumption that you know why we dislike the term and telling us that it is because we're on a high-horse. In fact, when I hear it I more usually don't correct people in order to avoid hurting feelings or coming across as arrogant even though what they're saying makes my teeth grind and distracts me to no end. Both you and the comic are making the kind of insulting implication that trying to clear up this wording is because we're arrogant and love showing off our superior knowledge. The comic is explicit in that message, in fact. That's inaccurate and annoying. Many of us just love language and / or also have a love of precision in meaning. Goes with the territory for many of us who are scientists, engineers, writers, etc. Or even just those of us who are aren't familiar with this strange variation that sounds so weird to us.

Exactly, all of this. And I don't buy the argument that most ordinary people get along just fine not worrying about these things. You only have to overhear a phone call on a train, or read notices pinned up around the place, or menus and newsletters written by caterers, facilities managers etc, to see that a large proportion of people people aren't very good at using English to convey meaning precisely. I saw a sign at a hotel the other day that said "this sauna is heated eclectically and not manually". Admittedly this kind of thing arises partly from people trying to ape a level of writing of which they're not capable, and could be avoided by use of more straightforward wording. But I quite often have to read writing that is properly mangled and requires me to guess at the meaning. This is not a good thing. And it almost certainly applies in speech as well as writing, it's just not as easy to collect examples. I realise that some people find writing especially difficult, but if you're writing the wrong word down, you're probably using it in speech too.

Regarding the counterfactual scenario in which one could exhibit a lower level of caring: it's definitely overthinking to invoke theories of determinism, etc. We're all capable of imagining scenarios in which everything is the same except for one element that's different. We do it all the time, we have a linguistic mood for it. We can say "If I were half a kilo heavier I wouldn't get into these jeans" without worrying about the metaphysical implications of how that difference in mass might have come about, and what else in the universe would also be different. In this case, we're saying that the scenario in which we care less couldn't exist, which strongly implies that we're talking about a logical or mathematical impossibility, i.e. that we already care zero.

The meta-caring discussion is interesting. It's very common to use the phrase in relation to issues we care a lot about, e.g. "if we tighten up our tax regime, rich foreign investors will move out of the UK" "I couldn't care less!". Clearly the presence of tax-dodging foreign investors is something the speaker feels strongly about.
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Baalthazaq » Sat Sep 12, 2015 8:27 am UTC

"I could care less" = "I care about this, by some, non minimal, amount" = "I care"

Anyone saying "Oh, but it's impossible to not care *at all* about something" still misses the point.
You *could* care less.
If reaching 0 is impossible, fine. Maybe "1" is the lowest point.
You're still saying "I'm not at my minimum, because from whatever level of care I'm at currently, I can go lower".

I'm not that annoyed by bad grammar usually, but when you've used a human mind and active effort to convey a sentence worth less than your silence, it's incredibly depressing.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby S.N.B. » Sat Sep 12, 2015 3:14 pm UTC

Sorry for the overly critical first post, but I've been an avid reader of the book and the comic for a while now and this is arguably the worst XKCD strip I've seen so far.

I agree that "every choice of phrasing and spelling" often does "carry countless signals and context and subtexts and more", but in case of "I could care less", the only thing it signals is that its user is a likely victim of illiteracy and poor reasoning skills. Using this illogical phrase is in no way more progressive than using "for all intensive purposes", "statue of limitations", "360 degree turn" (in regard to a 180° reversal), "misunderestimate", "here here", "piece of mind", "teh", "defenately", "irregardless", "alot", or countless other words and phrases misused and misspelled out of sheer ignorance and not out of some radical new way of linguistic thinking.

Just because you misheard or don't know how to spell something something doesn't make it right. Or reasonable. Misspelling a phrase doesn't improve your communication skills, and it most certainly doesn't make the exchange of thoughts and ideas any easier. The last thing you want is to encourage the misguided ignorance of those who—more often than not—simply don't know better and who, given the choice, probably would not want to use the incorrect phrase in the first place.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby madaco » Sat Sep 12, 2015 4:16 pm UTC

Deadcode wrote:I've had a growing inkling of this for years, but reading this comic and thread, I now realize that not only does "I could care less" not make sense, but "I couldn't care less" makes no sense either!

I think what a lot of literalists want "I couldn't care less" to mean is, "Nobody could care less than I do." It's pretty clear what that phrase means, because the independent variable is the person doing the caring. Since there are a very large number of people in the world, and it's unspecified whether it even has to be a living person, or even a person who has ever lived, "Nobody could care less than I do" presumably means "I don't care at all" — since it seems inevitable that out of the set of all people, there must be some who don't care at all.

But the problem with "I couldn't care less" is, the independent variable, i.e. the hypothetical "_____" in "I couldn't care less [if _____]", is completely unspecified. Who is doing the caring is a constant; no matter what the hypothetical is, the "I" in "I couldn't care less" has to still be the speaker.

So what is the hypothetical?
1. If some events in the past had happened differently? How far in the past? Recent? Or possibly going all the way back to the Big Bang? Presumably a corresponding "I" has to exist in this hypothetical alternate timeline, otherwise "how much I care about X" is undefined there. How similar does that "I" have to be to me for it to count? The further in the past the divergence in that hypothetical timeline happened, the less of an argument there is for that corresponding "I" actually being me.
2. If I decided to attempt to care less? What exactly is involved in attempting to care less about something? If I am capable of deciding to care less about X (and then executing that decision and actually caring about X by that reduced amount), did I ever actually care about X by the non-reduced amount?
3. If I start behaving as if I care less, i.e. pretend to care less, even though my amount of caring hasn't actually changed? Well then it's kind of a tautology that my amount of caring is unchanged and that I don't care less... making "I couldn't care less" meaningless in this case.
4. If a quantum fluctuation, or cosmic ray hitting my brain, suddenly changed my amount of caring? It's conceivable that such an event could have any effect on me, even changing my core identity, thus this would make "I couldn't care less" mean I don't care at all (the same as "Nobody could care less than I do").
5. If you asked me how much I care at a different point in time?

Note that in #3 and #4, I don't actually have to care at all about how much I care; these are only hypotheticals, so it's only hypothetical-me who must care at least the bare minimum needed to try to care less, or to pretend to care less.

Also, as stated earlier in the thread:
Plasma_Wolf wrote:In fact, I think that X [the amount of caring] 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.
This means even less, of course, in light of the fact that the independent variable is also unspecified — so we don't even know what function this is the lower bound of, or what would move the amount of caring between its upper and lower bounds.


So... both "I could care less" and "I couldn't care less" are meaningless if analyzed literally. Basically, I would argue they both must be treated as idiomatic phrases. Which of the two a speaker chooses to say doesn't tell you how much they care (or don't care), but rather, how much they care about logic... because although neither of them truly has its intended meaning if analyzed literally, "I couldn't care less" is at least closer to its intended meaning. All you must do to make "I couldn't care less" mean what it means to mean is append "than any randomly chosen person" at the end. But to make "I could care less" mean what it means to mean, you must both make that change, and change "could" to "couldn't".


Addressing some other comments:
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.
No. "How much I care" is a different thing than "how much I care about how much I care", or "how much I care about your being informed of how much I care". The fact that I'm saying "I couldn't care less" only proves that I care enough about informing you of how much I care that I find it worthwhile to make the statement "I couldn't care less."

Red Hal wrote:When someone says "I could care less", I mentally append ", but not much."
This is quite unsatisfying... it still leaves the question completely open of what would need to be different for them to care less by that small amount... and why they're stressing that their amount of caring is mutable, rather than stressing that their amount of caring is small in the first place. If we're going for exotic methods of modifying "I could care less" to mean what it means to mean without interpreting "could" as "couldn't" (via sarcasm, or contraction), then I would prefer "I could care less... but I don't care enough about how much I care to bother caring less — and the fact that I care so little about how much I care is directly correlated with how little I care in the first place. And I didn't care enough about informing you of how much I care to bother saying more than the first four words of that statement." Or perhaps "I could care less, and would like to do so. I am endeavoring to asymptotically approach my theoretical minimum amount of caring, so as we speak, I have just now decreased it a little bit more."



In my mind, the statement is not "I could not care less, even if <something>" but rather "I could not care less [than I do now]".

So "it is impossible, or not an option, for me to care less than I do".

If you want to put a condition in there, you could use "in any situation" or "under any circumstance".

That's how I've interpreted it as long as I remember anyway.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby xtifr » Sat Sep 12, 2015 4:19 pm UTC

h4rm0ny wrote:Which is exactly my objection to this comic which I gave right at the start. The idea that liking clear language or accuracy indicates some kind of smugness or pretension. I would say fairly confidently that of the many people here saying this bothers them or that "couldn't care less" is preferable for whatever reason, it's universally because the alternate version bothers us.

Which is a sad, sad thing. For you. And does absolutely nothing but lower my respect for you, whatever your reasons might be.

So naturally I dislike your presumption that you know why we dislike the term and telling us that it is because we're on a high-horse.

A. Claiming you're not on your high horse does not convince me that you're not on your high horse.

B. Beyond that, I think that assuming you're on your high horse is giving you the benefit of the doubt. The alternatives are worse, in my opinion. Either you're being willfully ignorant ("it can't mean that!") or you're being idiotic ("it's going to ruin the language!"1).

In my over-half-a-century on this planet, I have yet to hear any objection to something like this that made any sort of sense whatsoever. If you've got another explanation that isn't one seen a billion times on the Internet every time English usage is discussed, feel free to wow us all. But I'm not holding my breath. Nothing you've said so far gives any hint of any such thing.

Bottom line: language is frequently illogical. If that bothers you, you're going to spend a whole lot of your life being bothered. Which sounds like a complete waste of time. And is Not My Problem™. My advice to you is: find some way of getting over it. You're not going to convince half the freakin' English speakers in the word to change the habits of a lifetime just to suit your prissy ways and bizarre prejudices.

Many of us just love language and / or also have a love of precision in meaning.

I don't believe it's possible to love both. Natural languages are inherently ambiguous and frequently imprecise. If you actually love language, you would love the ambiguity and imprecision, as I do. It allows for all sorts of humor and wordplay and poetry and free association. Without ambiguity and imprecision, languages would be dry, dull, and dead.

This is like claiming, "I like animals, but I don't like creatures that eat and poop and shed and make messes and have minds of their own." Natural languages, like animals, are organic and messy. To some of us—the ones who actually love language—that's part of their charm. If you don't like the messiness, you don't actually love animals (or language). You love some bizarre imaginary version of animals (language) that can only be approximated by a fur-covered robot (artificial conlang).

And if all the above sounds harsh, well, I suppose it probably is, but I can't think of any other way to possibly get through the shell you've built around yourself. I want you to be happy, but you've constructed a mental model that makes that nearly impossible, and reasoned argument hasn't made a dent in your shell. I can only hope that some harsh truths shock you out of your mental rut, once you have a little time to get over being offended.

1 I hope I don't have to explain that this sort of thing has been going on for centuries, and people have been making linguistic and grammatical mistakes for centuries, and that natural languages have been messy for centuries, and thus, if this sort of thing were actually going to "ruin the language", it would have done so centuries ago. Yet we retain the ability to communicate with language quite well, and even reasonably precisely if we're so inclined.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby xslogic » Sat Sep 12, 2015 9:22 pm UTC

xtifr wrote:A. Claiming you're not on your high horse does not convince me that you're not on your high horse.

Fair enough. You don't have to believe anybody. Do remember, though, the part of h4rm0ny's post that read:
h4rm0ny wrote:In fact, when I hear it I more usually don't correct people in order to avoid hurting feelings or coming across as arrogant even though what they're saying makes my teeth grind and distracts me to no end.

I'd say that h4rm0ny is stating, in a discussion about the phrase in question, that it annoys them, but that they generally doesn't say anything about it. Annoyance doesn't necessarily go hand-in-hand with arrogance, pretension or airs of superiority.1, 2

xtifr wrote:B. Beyond that, I think that assuming you're on your high horse is giving you the benefit of the doubt.

The person who says they're not on their high horse assumes that it gives them the benefit of the doubt?

xtifr wrote:The alternatives are worse, in my opinion. Either you're being willfully ignorant ("it can't mean that!") or you're being idiotic ("it's going to ruin the language!")

Or "this phrase doesn't sound right to me, and it causes me to twitch involuntary everytime I hear or see it", perhaps? Also, are you saying that the phrase in question does mean that?

xtifr wrote:Bottom line: language is frequently illogical. If that bothers you, you're going to spend a whole lot of your life being bothered. Which sounds like a complete waste of time. And is Not My Problem™. My advice to you is: find some way of getting over it.

So - language can be illogical - but in suggesting that h4rm0ny just "getting over it", are you suggesting that human beings either can't or shouldn't be illogical?

You are right that language is ambiguous and frequently imprecise, though. For example, if we were speaking on a phone, you'd see exactly any corrections I was making3 and hear the cadence and tone of my voice. If it was a video phone? You'd see my face and pick up some visual cues. In person, you'd get even more. (Of course, the flip side is that the post will be accurately recorded and kept for future reference - which isn't the case of the other forms of communication I mentioned)

At the end of the day, certain things bother certain people. They don't have to be rational. Some people aren't bothered by linguistic issues, shall we say. Some people aren't. Some people can explain what bothers them about a specific thing. Some can't. (Me? I couldn't care less if you use could care less)

1 *shrugs* I've got access to the online Oxford English Dictionary and I'm determined4 to use it.
2 Before you ask, I know I ain't superior to nobody. :D
3 The many, many corrections I've made in writing this wouldn't generally happen on a phone. I'm quite bad for this. I've written e-mails in the past which have then been rewritten from scratch 3 or 4 times in in entirely different styles, occasionally with a vastly different emphasis and overall feel. And that ignores all the different edits I've made on each form of the message.
4 In the "limited, as in choice" meaning of the word.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Various Varieties » Sat Sep 12, 2015 9:52 pm UTC

I think this xkcd is the second-best webcomic about this pet peeve that I have ever seen!

... OK, perhaps the Ozy & Millie strip below isn't as elaborate as Randall's version. But that comic and the famous "caring continuum" image are the things I always think of whenever the debate about this phrase flares up online.

Image

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Deadcode » Sun Sep 13, 2015 1:38 am UTC

madaco wrote:
Deadcode wrote:So what is the hypothetical?
1. If some events in the past had happened differently? How far in the past? Recent? Or possibly going all the way back to the Big Bang? Presumably a corresponding "I" has to exist in this hypothetical alternate timeline, otherwise "how much I care about X" is undefined there. How similar does that "I" have to be to me for it to count? The further in the past the divergence in that hypothetical timeline happened, the less of an argument there is for that corresponding "I" actually being me.
2. If I decided to attempt to care less? What exactly is involved in attempting to care less about something? If I am capable of deciding to care less about X (and then executing that decision and actually caring about X by that reduced amount), did I ever actually care about X by the non-reduced amount?
3. If I start behaving as if I care less, i.e. pretend to care less, even though my amount of caring hasn't actually changed? Well then it's kind of a tautology that my amount of caring is unchanged and that I don't care less... making "I couldn't care less" meaningless in this case.
4. If a quantum fluctuation, or cosmic ray hitting my brain, suddenly changed my amount of caring? It's conceivable that such an event could have any effect on me, even changing my core identity, thus this would make "I couldn't care less" mean I don't care at all (the same as "Nobody could care less than I do").
5. If you asked me how much I care at a different point in time?


In my mind, the statement is not "I could not care less, even if <something>" but rather "I could not care less [than I do now]".

So "it is impossible, or not an option, for me to care less than I do".

If you want to put a condition in there, you could use "in any situation" or "under any circumstance".

That's how I've interpreted it as long as I remember anyway.

So basically, option #5.

But all it means is that you've reached your lower limit of caring. That lower limit could still be a significant amount of caring.

However... there is the fact that you have no way of knowing what will happen in the future. If you have a nonzero amount of caring, there's always a chance that at some point in the future you could care a tiny bit less. You have no way of actually knowing what your lower limit is. So the only way to truthfully state that you couldn't care less [in the future] is if you don't care at all.

So option #5 does work. And I have to admit it is a good choice for "the obvious" default condition/independent variable/hypothetical/counterfactual.

In light of this, I retract my argument! 'I couldn't care less' could indeed mean what it's intended to mean when analyzed literally. Thank you!

EDIT: There's still a slight problem... when I say "I couldn't care less" it doesn't really feel like I'm comparing how much I care now to how much I might care in the future... nor does it feel like any other specific counterfactual I can think of.

EDIT #2: I think I've finally realized what "I couldn't care less [about X]" means to me: "I couldn't care less about anything else than I care about X" — the independent variable being the object of care (or lack thereof).
Last edited by Deadcode on Sun Sep 13, 2015 6:24 am UTC, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby xtifr » Sun Sep 13, 2015 1:48 am UTC

xslogic wrote:
xtifr wrote:The alternatives are worse, in my opinion. Either you're being willfully ignorant ("it can't mean that!") or you're being idiotic ("it's going to ruin the language!")

Or "this phrase doesn't sound right to me, and it causes me to twitch involuntary everytime I hear or see it", perhaps?

Ah, the way some people react to the word "moist"? Yes, I suppose that is possible, but in that case, there's little to do except let him go on twitching. We're not going to throw out the word "moist" from the language, and we're not going to get rid of either version of this phrase.

However, I find the hypothesis that it's purely a visceral reaction to the *sound* of the phrase be improbable, to say the least. I suspect he twitches because the phrase is not the one he grew up with, and it seems illogical to him. That's back to the willful ignorance thing. Since he refused to suggest any actual reason why he might twitch, I'm trying to consider all the possibilities, and not limit it to one. But none of the possibilities are particularly flattering to him. (Except, perhaps, woeful ignorance, which is easily curable.)

Also, are you saying that the phrase in question does mean that?

I don't have to. The OED says it does. As does every reputable linguist and lexicographer. It's not actually a matter for dispute. (Except among the sort of idiots who still try to claim that infinitives can't be split, or that "up with which I shall not put" is an acceptable construction.) How this state of affairs came to be is disputed, but not the basic facts.

So - language can be illogical - but in suggesting that h4rm0ny just "getting over it", are you suggesting that human beings either can't or shouldn't be illogical?

Shouldn't be. In this particular case. I certainly do not dispute that they can be and frequently are. However h4rm0ny seemed to want to discuss the topic logically, which suggests an interest in being logical about it. And it's pretty clear that he doesn't like twitching. And in my fairly extensive experience, people who twitch on this particular topic are invariably under the misapprehension that the usage is wrong. I have cured several people of twitching by pointing out the extensive documentation that says its not wrong. I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt by assuming he's one of the folks with enough sense to be able to get over it.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby InstIsDrunk » Sun Sep 13, 2015 4:48 am UTC

I actually look at this from two ways; the most important thing is context. Linguistic drift is a natural part of life, and if you believe in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis it's not a bad thing; i.e, new meanings and new words need to be constantly invented to address new situations and linguistic drift allows language to better match our new situation.

Yet at the same time, context is important; i.e, words are means that people use to communicate meaning to others. Let's take particularly pretentious pieces of art. The reason we consider them pretentious is because their meaning is so private that only the artist can understand them, so they fail as means of artistic communication. Words that do not effectively communicate meaning, or introduce unwanted imprecision to meaning, fail by introducing confusion.

===

Put another way; in a formal academic environment, when precision of meaning and economy of meaning is necessary, "I couldn't care less" is correct and "I could care less" is incorrect, not the least because you will attract and annoy pedants. In an informal environment, such as an informal workplace, or a group of people where everyone understands everyone else's jargon, "I could care less" as a sarcastic statement indicating that your level of care, relative to all possible levels of care, is appropriate.

Ironically, "I couldn't care less" by itself is an overly ambiguous phrase in itself. Let's say, for instance, your house is on fire and someone asks how you feel. You reply "I couldn't care less". Is that a statement of incredible sangfroid, or is that a statement of absolute concern; i.e, in the former case, it means your care is relative to possible cares, but in the latter case, what you mean is that the matter is so alarming to you that there would be no way that you could care less.

===

In general, this can be observed in terms of acrolects and basilects; I admit that I do not have linguistic training or can be considered an expert on the subject; basilects tend to experience more drift because there is no value to pedancy, while acrolects can be fossilized; for instance, consider that Latin in medieval Europe functioned as the language of the elite, despite the fact that Roman civilization in its pure form was only preserved in Byzantium, which spoke Greek, and that the Western Roman Empire had ceased to exist, or alternately, we can talk about Classical Chinese, which was an acrolect in China that had experienced almost no drift from the time of Confucius.

So once again, the level of "precision" is only necessary depending on context. An acquaintance once was known for typing in IRC in complete sentences with complete punctuation, and he mentioned once that would I rather have him type in LOL b4um8 demotic? Of course not, but the importance is context; texts from Senators and Congressmen observe the text-language format; we can accuse them of being too informal for the gravity of their position, but at the same time, Mr. Complete Punctuation was not chatting in accordance with his context, and his distinctive manner of speech was an idiosyncracy.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby InstIsDrunk » Sun Sep 13, 2015 4:53 am UTC

Another way to make the acrolect / basilect / context argument is this: in English and in French, there are words represented by the orthography "Esprit de Corps". Their meaning is related, but there is linguistic drift. Esprit de corps in English is a positive term, like how soldiers on the battlefield would be willing to die for one another. In French, its meaning has drifted, or so I've read, to something like how crooked cops cover for each other, or how people won't whistleblow at Enron. When used in English it has one meaning, when used in French it has another meaning.

The acrolect and basilect distinction works the same way; depending on the register of the speech, "I could care less" is alternately preferred to "I couldn't care less"; i.e, a Senator making a speech before Congress would use I couldn't care less, but when his wife announces that she's leaving him after a loveless marriage, "I could care less" is correct, albeit brutal.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby h4rm0ny » Sun Sep 13, 2015 10:31 am UTC

xtifr wrote:
h4rm0ny wrote:Which is exactly my objection to this comic which I gave right at the start. The idea that liking clear language or accuracy indicates some kind of smugness or pretension. I would say fairly confidently that of the many people here saying this bothers them or that "couldn't care less" is preferable for whatever reason, it's universally because the alternate version bothers us.

Which is a sad, sad thing. For you. And does absolutely nothing but lower my respect for you, whatever your reasons might be.


A more nuanced view however, would take into account why someone was bothered by something. It's just social. But the above isn't really argument, so I'll leave it at that. It's just you saying that you couldn't care less how I feel.

xtifr wrote:
So naturally I dislike your presumption that you know why we dislike the term and telling us that it is because we're on a high-horse.

A. Claiming you're not on your high horse does not convince me that you're not on your high horse.


Well here is an interesting thing, much of your post is implications that I'm arrogant, egotistical or whatever it is you're implying, but it's not my aim to prove something to YOU. I was just conveying my point of view to any interested. Indeed, given that you are openly rejecting the premise that I'm telling the truth in favour of your own beliefs about what I actually think, I'm not sure how I actually could prove I feel what I say I feel. However, this post is not about you despite your assumption, and I'm sure there are plenty of people who will extend me the courtesy of not rejecting my statement. Especially as my given reasons are pretty common ones held genuinely by lots of people.

xtifr wrote:B. Beyond that, I think that assuming you're on your high horse is giving you the benefit of the doubt. The alternatives are worse, in my opinion. Either you're being willfully ignorant ("it can't mean that!") or you're being idiotic ("it's going to ruin the language!"1).


At this point, I'm going to point out those aren't the only two other options. On the fairly simply grounds that I already gave another option in the post you are replying to. That you reject liking semantic validity in language as a possible option is a limitation of your own, not ours. Additionally, phrasing what someone else said in more hyperbolic and extremist wording may or may not constitute a strawman, but to the degree you are doing it, I think it comes close. It is possible to dislike a sentence construction without believing that it will ruin the English language. If you're going to use quote marks, they should at least bare some resemblance to something someone has actually said, in intent if not phrasing.

xtifr wrote:In my over-half-a-century on this planet, I have yet to hear any objection to something like this that made any sort of sense whatsoever.


Well isn't the point of this comic that the burden is on the listener to make sense of what is said to them, rather than on the speaker to make sense? :) Are you changing your position on this? Besides, based on other responses to my post, I'm confident my argument was intelligible to the rest of the readership. So if you could not make sense of it then I think we have a more legitimate case of the burden of understanding being placed on the listener, than the comic's (where the opposite of what is meant is what is said). Perhaps that is how I should read your above quote - it's a clever multi-layered example of how it can be a valid principle to place the burden of understanding on the listener! You're tricking me into doing it so you can then turn around and accuse me of doing what I condemn the comic for. In which case I salute your perspicuity. But I'll point out that my post, unlike the comic's example, doesn't contradict itself so ultimately that comparison falls flat.

Of course, you could be doing nothing as sophisticated as that and are actually just rejecting in a very simplistic way another person's argument by just asserting that it doesn't make sense. But given your position in this debate, I'm allowing for the possibility that you mean something other than what you say. ;)

Come to think of it, perhaps that is why you reject the premise that I actually mean what I say and substitute new motivations for me (that I'm on a high-horse). You're adhering to the principle outlined in the cartoon of discarding the stated meaning of what someone says and adding the one you expect to hear. I congratulate you on applying the principle you argue for so rigorously! :)

xtifr wrote:If you've got another explanation that isn't one seen a billion times on the Internet every time English usage is discussed, feel free to wow us all. But I'm not holding my breath. Nothing you've said so far gives any hint of any such thing.


I don't have any further explanations than the ones you have already (presumably) read. But I'll re-state just to keep this discussion close to the metal:
1) A love of language and clarity in meaning.
2) Coming from outside the USA and thus not having become inured to this weird inversion of meaning through over-familiarity.
2) An irritating feeling of dissonance whenever I hear it.

On a related note, you'll notice the idiom "close to the metal". That's a phrase from my background in software development. Like "I could care less" it requires familiarity with a particular (sub-)culture to fully comprehend. The distinction is that lack of familiarity leaves a void rather than an altered meaning. I tossed it in there as an illustration of that because another poster described critics of "I could care less" as "literalists". This is not the case, I'm very fond of figurative speech. But it is good not to alienate your audience so a figure of speech should be intuitive or its meaning easily inferable from the context. It's this jarring crash of the intuitive meaning with the inferred meaning that makes "I could care less" such a dissonant and poor figure of speech.

"He's got her wrapped around his finger," is a phrase that is not necessarily inferable from the context, but the meaning can be intuitively derived fairly easily in conveying the power / control of one individual over another.
"I thought you said you didn't like doing this?" // "Well needs must when the Devil Drives" That phrase is quite archaic and perhaps not easily derived intuitively at first glance, but as a reply to someone asking why you're doing something you don't like doing, its meaning can quite easily be inferred as 'you've got to do what you've got to do'.

But if someone says: "She's got so much control over him he's got her wrapped around his little finger," the mental gears clash as intuition and inferred meaning jostle with each other in your forebrain. (1)

There's nothing in the above that "doesn't make any sense" as you wrote, nor requires someone to be on their "high-horse" as you also wrote. It's okay for people to be bothered by this even if you want to tell us it's "Not your problem". Nobody said it must be. The principle objection to your post wasn't people saying that you weren't accepting it as your problem, it was people objecting to being told they were arrogant or smug or acting above themselves by disliking such clashes. And THAT is where the offense comes in.

xtifr wrote:Bottom line: language is frequently illogical. If that bothers you, you're going to spend a whole lot of your life being bothered. Which sounds like a complete waste of time. And is Not My Problem™. My advice to you is: find some way of getting over it. You're not going to convince half the freakin' English speakers in the word to change the habits of a lifetime just to suit your prissy ways and bizarre prejudices.


Stripping away the pejorative language which amounts to saying I am "prissy and bizarre" because I don't agree with you, the point made was that you're insulting and misrepresenting where people are coming from in disliking this. I may or may not change the world, but it doesn't mean I have to be insulted because I'm from the UK and say things differently. From what others here have said it sounds like the usage split is fifty-fifty even within the USA, anyway.

xtifr wrote:
Many of us just love language and / or also have a love of precision in meaning.

I don't believe it's possible to love both. Natural languages are inherently ambiguous and frequently imprecise. If you actually love language, you would love the ambiguity and imprecision, as I do. It allows for all sorts of humor and wordplay and poetry and free association. Without ambiguity and imprecision, languages would be dry, dull, and dead.


Again, you're telling a stranger on the Internet that they're lying about what they say. That natural language contains ambiguity and is not always precise, does not mean that language cannot be used clumsily or ineptly. As I wrote in one of my earlier posts, "James Joyce knows what he's doing". When Sylvia Plath (one of my favourite poets) writes the line: "Eye, the cauldron of morning", I don't suppose she means someone literally has a large, iron cooking-pot in their skull. But that does not also mean that when someone refers to their computer case, m/board processor and everything else in it as "the hard drive" I say to myself 'here is a pleasing play on words'. I'm sure you can appreciate the difference there.

xtifr wrote:This is like claiming, "I like animals, but I don't like creatures that eat and poop and shed and make messes and have minds of their own." Natural languages, like animals, are organic and messy. To some of us—the ones who actually love language—that's part of their charm. If you don't like the messiness, you don't actually love animals (or language). You love some bizarre imaginary version of animals (language) that can only be approximated by a fur-covered robot (artificial conlang).


Well no, the above doesn't follow and again we're back to patronizing and insults telling us that you "actually" love language and the rest of us are too ignorant to do so because we don't understand its true nature. Language is something we shape, like warm wax. I can like or dislike what someone else does with it and that doesn't mean I lack understanding.

xtifr wrote:And if all the above sounds harsh, well, I suppose it probably is, but I can't think of any other way to possibly get through the shell you've built around yourself. I want you to be happy, but you've constructed a mental model that makes that nearly impossible, and reasoned argument hasn't made a dent in your shell. I can only hope that some harsh truths shock you out of your mental rut, once you have a little time to get over being offended.


And here is the crux of both your post and the comic. You believe you are delivering a harsh truth that will help shock and mock us out of our error. You juxtapose an argument that language is ambiguous and means different things to different listeners with some idea that you are the herald of a high truth without at any point realizing the hilarious contrast it presents. Someone likes a sentence to make sense semantically (sense, sentence, semantic - note the closeness of these things) and you try to turn that into some high-blown righteous cause to free us from our "shell" and our "constructed mental model". And you think you will do that by belittling, insulting, mischaracterizing those you disagree with and telling us all we need to get off our high-horse. All the while giving us some circus trick of horses balancing on horses balancing on horses. You lambast people for their arrogance but your post looks like it's horses all the way down. And you don't even notice. :/

You want to break me out of my "shell" ? I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself queen of infinite space, but that I have to endure bad semantics.

As I wrote in my earlier post, I normally don't say anything when people use this phrase, even though it bothers me, but logically that does not mean I may not have valid reasons for the fact that it does. Even if you wish to declare that this is "not your problem" and decide that you want to break me out of my shell with "harsh lessons" because "you want me to be happy". I will always care about meaning. I could care less, as you want me to, but I don't.

h4rm0ny
Posts: 17
Joined: Wed Sep 09, 2015 11:24 am UTC

Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby h4rm0ny » Sun Sep 13, 2015 11:27 am UTC

EDIT: I recognize that this is a double-post technically, but they are two very different angles in very long posts, and I want a cognitive pause between the two.

InstIsDrunk wrote:In general, this can be observed in terms of acrolects and basilects; I admit that I do not have linguistic training or can be considered an expert on the subject; basilects tend to experience more drift because there is no value to pedancy, while acrolects can be fossilized; for instance, consider that Latin in medieval Europe functioned as the language of the elite, despite the fact that Roman civilization in its pure form was only preserved in Byzantium, which spoke Greek, and that the Western Roman Empire had ceased to exist, or alternately, we can talk about Classical Chinese, which was an acrolect in China that had experienced almost no drift from the time of Confucius.


There are two problems with this thesis that I see. The first is that by dividing this up in basilects vs. acrolects and referring to greater linguisitic drift in basilects, you cast non-US english as the acrolect (by default) and suppose that it is subject to less linguistic drift. In fact, English whether US, Canadian, British, Australian or any of the others, are all equally vibrant and living languages. I'm ignoring the inherent value attached to acrolect / basilect (whose viewpoint are we to use on which is which?) and focusing on the implication that one (US English) is a successor to the other (UK English). They exist side by side and there is a great deal of cross-pollination. That is if I have interpreted your post correctly. Latin persisted as the language of the academic elite across Europe for two reasons. One was that a very large body of existing knowledge already existed in Latin and so learning of Latin was a pre-requisite to get involved. The second was that there was wild inconsistency and many regional dialects amongst the European languages. So Latin provided a necessary common ground given that much of that academic elite was spread across Europe. Leibniz and Newton had enough to do without having to become fully-fluent in writing each other's languages! ;)

So for those two reasons, I do not know that it is appropriate to cast this discussion in terms of basilects and acrolects. Indeed whilst in theory it would be nice to see my position case as the acrolect, as a Yorkshire lass who is traditionally seen as using the basilect therefore, I have an inverted snobbery predisposition against it. ;). What I would actually argue is that there is an inherent value to language having clear meaning all else being equal. And that this is a good criteria to use.

What do I mean by "all else being equal" ? Well there's a joy to be had in obfuscating meaning if it is done with purpose: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyJh3qKjSMk (the "certainly would" speech from "Yes, Prime Minister"). But unless there is a purpose, the guide should be clarity of meaning, imo.

InstIsDrunk wrote:So once again, the level of "precision" is only necessary depending on context. An acquaintance once was known for typing in IRC in complete sentences with complete punctuation, and he mentioned once that would I rather have him type in LOL b4um8 demotic? Of course not, but the importance is context; texts from Senators and Congressmen observe the text-language format; we can accuse them of being too informal for the gravity of their position, but at the same time, Mr. Complete Punctuation was not chatting in accordance with his context, and his distinctive manner of speech was an idiosyncracy.


I disagree that this is an issue of formality vs. informality, and this ties into your arcolect vs. basilect viewpoint as well. My own name here, you may note, is h4rm0ny. There are historical reasons for that, but the point is, I don't mind if someone uses txt, l33t or anything else, by itself. I reject entirely that "could care less" / "couldn't care less" is a question of formal vs. informal language. You'll hear any thirteen year old in Manchester say they "couldn't care less" and it's not because they're fond of formal speaking. It's because it makes sense to them. I think your viewpoint is a very US-based one, am I right? I would not be arguing against this on the grounds of formal / informal because neither is inherently superior and in fact informal is probably preferable because it has greater freedom to grow and change. I think the grounds for argument are confusion and awkwardness.

EDIT: I took formal / informal in the sense of socially formal, rather than in the sense of "Formal Language" logic-speak, based on your context of someone speaking in public in Congress vs. speaking in private with their partner.


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