This is an article we have had requested a number of times: Could Care Less vs Couldn’t Care Less. Which one is right, why is one used more than the other and why is one of them used at all? Which came first, which is right, which is wrong, which is just stupid?

In this Could Care Less vs Couldn’t Care Less guide we aim to provide the answers in a way that only Versus-All knows how.

Could Care Less vs Couldn’t Care Less

The English language is beautiful. We may not have 50 words to describe snow, but there are definitely enough words within our dictionaries to describe a sunset, the sound of water or our emotions.

Unfortunately, our language also contains some phrases that are absolutely asinine. Take, for example, the expression “I could care less.” Just saying that begs the question, “Oh, you could? So then there’s still a level of less care than the amount of care you have right now?”

We’ve gotten the question, though. You’ve asked us which is correct – could care less vs couldn’t care less. We aim to make our readers happy, so we’ll tackle the question for you.

Could Care Less vs Couldn’t Care Less: A Look at the Former

Great! Wait, what? What do you mean? Do you mean you don’t care or that you do care? ‘Splain, please!!

First, let’s make up a conversation.

  • “I ate three bananas for breakfast this morning,” said Mary.
  • “I couldn’t care less,” Pete replied.

Now, let’s rephrase Pete’s response to Mary in a few different ways.

  • There is no way possible for me to care less about your bananas than I do right now.
  • On a scale of 0 to 10, my level of concern about your breakfast is at a solid 0.
  • I truly don’t give a damn, Mary. Eat what you want.

Pete is very clear in his level of concern for Mary’s dietary choices. He tells her in very explicit terms that her breakfast is of no concern to him, and that there is no lesser amount of care that he could have.

Let’s pretend now that Pete answered Mary in a slightly different way.

  • “I ate three bananas for breakfast this morning,” said Mary.
  • “I could care less,” Pete replied.

You see what Pete did there? He relayed a different message to Mary this time, albeit a message that’s vague at best. Let’s rephrase Pete’s new response.

  • I could possibly care less about your bananas, Mary. I care a little bit, so if I didn’t care at all it would be less.
  • On a scale of 0 to 10, my level of concern about your breakfast is at about a 2. It could be less, but 2 sounds about right.
  • I do care. I could care less or I could care more, but I do care at some level.

I couldn’t care less and I could care less mean two very different things. One makes sense and one doesn’t. So why, despite the lack of logic attached to the latter, do we still say the stupid phrase? And where did it start in the first place?

Could Care Less vs Couldn’t Care Less: A Brief History of the Latter

Could Care Less vs Couldn’t Care Less
Could Care Less? This cat is not impressed with your stupidity (okay, so we couldn’t find a relevant picture)

There are a few phrases in the English language which mean the same thing as “I couldn’t care less.” Some contain expletives, and we won’t include those here. Others are much more colorful, like “I don’t give a tinker’s dam,” or “I don’t give a hoot.” Both phrases have interesting origins, but aren’t as widely used as “I couldn’t care less.”

It’s thought that the phrase originated in Britain and emigrated to the United States around the 1950s. The phrase experienced success for about a decade, and then it was mauled by Americans. Sometime around the 1960s, the saying “I could care less” made its debut in American vocabulary, and there are varying opinions as to why.

In one theory, someone misheard someone else. She then repeated that awkward phrase like a game of grade school telephone, and it became part of the American repertoire of idiotic (erm… idiomatic) phrases.

Another theory is that someone was being sarcastic. This would be similar to saying “yeah, right” or “tell me about it.” We think that’s the least likely scenario.

The third theory, and what we think really happened, is that the phrase originated from lazy speech patterns. Someone dropped a syllable somewhere in history and we’re now stuck with the damn thing. It happens all the time; America is good for battering an otherwise gorgeous language.

Now, before you get mad and close your browser, we’d like to state something for the official record. There is very little that is more magnificent about our nation than the rainbow of dialects owned by her people. We just wish that this one phrase would go away.

Couldn’t Care Less vs. Could Care Less

Couldn’t Care Less vs Could Care Less
Do you know how hard it is to find a relevant picture for this? Here’s another cat. This one’s called Tom. Probably.

Which should you use, then? Decisions, decisions… Ultimately, it’s up to you. Just be sure that you realize that they do not mean the same thing.

If you want to tell Mary that she should address someone else about her fruit consumption, you should use the former. Mary will understand that you do not care at all, and she’ll go talk to Herman.

If you’re trying to convey the subtle message to Mary that you do care about her diet, and wish that she’d elaborate further, please use the latter. Mary will interpret your phrase as “Mary, I’m not at my full caring potential right now, but if you continue speaking, perhaps I’ll tip toward caring more.”

With that said, we’d also like to give a shout out to regional colloquialisms. They certainly have their place in the English language, no matter in which part of the world it’s spoken. For example, saying “bless your heart” in Maine means “you poor thing.” Saying “bless your heart” in North Carolina means “you’re a simpleton.”

So it could very well be that “I could care less” is, in your area, just what people say. We don’t think so, though. Famous people from all over the country say it all the time. Kid Rock sang it, Dr. Phil droned on about it. The fact is that it’s just a national idiom, and idioms couldn’t care less about whether they make sense or they don’t.

We’re not entirely sure where the phrase “I could care less” originated, but we’re 100% certain that it’s wrong. Choosing to use the phrase in everyday conversation probably won’t result in anyone calling you stupid, but do so at your own risk. We warned you.

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