I could care less

D. Ezra Johnson ezra_50 at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 31 04:55:34 UTC 2001

>I dispute the assumption that this IS a least-effort reduction, or
>you wouldn't have the difference in intonation patterns we were
>alluding to earlier today (again, see Pinker's anti-Safire chapter
>for a detailed account of this).

I enjoyed Pinker's anti-Safire chapter as much as I do Barry Popik's
bimonthly invective directed at the same target, but I must confess that in
my younger and more innocent years, I would say things like

"I could care less about X" or
"I could really care less about X"

without using the sarcastic intonation. I can use a straight, declarative
intonation, or more likely a sort of emphatic, impatient intonation
(accompanied by wrist-twisting gesture -- anybody with me?). You can tell I
haven't been trained in the Trager-Smith numerical system.

Now I don't know if the sarcastic care-lessers ever would, but I wouldn't
have ever said

"Like I could care less about X" or
"As if I could care less about X"

So I think some speakers are indeed guilty of the (God forbid) illogic that
Safire et al. attack.

It could have started sarcastically, and transferred over to speakers who
lack the specific (Yiddish?) intonation pattern alluded to earlier: an
interesting kind of shift where pragmatics (sarcasm) is replaced by a sort
of marked, backward semantics. What I'm trying to say is that it ends up
like one of those expressions where you just have to know it means the
opposite of what it sounds like, such as the alleged Bostonianism

"So don't I."

"Same difference" is similar, and there must be others.


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