"All seriousness aside"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Fri Aug 5 22:35:23 UTC 2005

On Fri, 5 Aug 2005 12:49:12 -0400, Wilson Gray <wilson.gray at RCN.COM> wrote:

>FWIW, I first heard "I could care less" in 1959, when I was in the
>Army. It was the first day of basic training and the speaker was the
>barracks sergeant, a black Puerto-Rican with a very thick - or is it
>"heavy"? - Spanish accent. So, I figured that he had made a simple,
>non-native-speaker's mistake. However, I soon discovered that this
>locution was used *throughout* the Army, both here and overseas, by
>soldiers of all ethnic and racial backgrounds, regardless of rank.
>Well, at least up to the rank of brigadier general. I never so much as
>laid eyes on anyone of higher rank. It was stereotypical to the point
>of being jargon. *Nobody anywhere* used "I _couldn't_ care less" under
>*any* circumstances. And it was already in everyday use at every post
>that I was assigned to before I got there, as ubiquitous as "GI."
>So, I figure that, whatever its origin, it had been in use in the
>military probably for several years prior to 1959, if anyone cares.

Last time I looked for antedatings, I found cites for "could care less"
from 1955 and 1957:

This Morning . . . With Shirley Povich
Washington Post, Sep 25, 1955, p. C1/1
The National League clubs have always shied from pitching left-handers
against the Dodgers, but Casey Stengel could care less about the Dodgers'
reputation for beating southpaws.
Letters to the Editor
Wall St Journal, Mar 28, 1957, p. 12/3
"I don't know what the exact statistics are, and could care less, but from
all reports, the great majority of draft-age young men are just not being
drafted nowadays."

By 1960, it was common enough to be discussed in an Ann Landers column:

Salisbury (Md.) Times (and various other papers), Oct. 20, 1960
DEAR ANN: My girl friend and I are having an argument. You know that
common expression: "I couldn't care less." Well she says it's "I COULD
care less."  Please tell us in your column which is right. -- TOOTH AND
DEAR TOENAIL: The expression as I understand it is "I couldn't care less"
which means I don't care at all. On the other hand, maybe she COULD care
less, which means she does care at least a little.  To be honest, this is
a waste of valuable newspaper space and I couldn't care less.

--Ben Zimmer

More information about the Ads-l mailing list