Mighty Red Pen

November 3, 2010

Don’t be careless about caring less

Filed under: Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 5:57 pm

Jan Freeman of Throw Grammar from the Train recently explored the 50 years of debate over “could care less” and “couldn’t care less.” Regarding “could care less,” which is so frequently reviled by peevologists, she muses:

But whatever its sources—sarcasm, irony, Yiddish, or (as its detractors say) ignorance—“could care less” is snugly embedded in the American idiom. Yet the complaints keep rolling in.

Half a century, it’s true, is not excessively long in the world of usage disputes. This is one of the mysteries of peevology: Why do certain innovations annoy people, year after year, while other changes pass unnoticed? Why are some terms “skunked,” in the coinage of usage maven Bryan Garner—trapped awkwardly between the traditional usage and the emerging sense—for decades? Why do others shift and adapt, almost unremarked, right under our noses?

Read “I Could Care Less: A Loathed Phrase Turns 50.”

And check out this edition of David Mitchell’s Soap Box on the topic.

Stay with him and you’ll also get his thoughts on the phrase “holding down the fort.”



  1. A worthwhile blog entry.

    David Mitchell words it perfectly in regards to the the whole debate about, “could” and “couldn’t care less.” . However, “holding down the fort” for me, brings to mind loose papers on the verge of flying away with the wind. In a literal sense the saying obviously doesn’t work, but most people talk and construct sentences based on how the subject in question makes them feel. So, if holding something down conveys a feeling of control, then the saying, “holding down the fort” seems to make sense for most people.

    Anyway, your blog is always an interesting read xD.

    Comment by John — November 5, 2010 @ 4:23 am | Reply

  2. Fifty years of debate! I thought this awful phrase was a more recent manifestation of poor literacy and inattention to language.
    (Just found your blog after googling the difference between ‘predominately’ and ‘predominantly’. I have the exact problem you had a few months back, and am going to correct the term to ‘predominantly’. Editors are always right, aren’t they…?)

    Comment by Kathy — November 7, 2010 @ 4:09 pm | Reply

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