"can do so much"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sun May 24 01:58:46 UTC 2009

On Sat, May 23, 2009 at 3:39 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at gmail.com> wrote:
> Was there any conclusion arrived at as to the (historical) origin of
> "I could care less"? I first heard it used in the Army in the late
> '50's. Neither I nor any other of the 400 or so recruits in my
> training company had ever heard it before - the phrase engendered much
> discussion in the barracks. Yet, among seasoned soldiers (BTW, has
> anybody else noticed that, on the TV show, NCIS, marines are almost
> always referred to as "soldiers"?), "I could care less" was already
> used as routinely as "fuckinay  shitcan  buttcan  stockade one's bunk
> latrine  (un-)ass  KP  personal weapon  bitch box (a form of outdoor
> pulpit at Fort Leonard Wood; a barracks intercom, elsewhere)" and
> other examples of military jargon.

When I looked a few years ago, I found  "couldn't care less" in print
from 1944 and "could care less" from 1955:

'Danger List' by Christianna Brand
Chicago Tribune, May 15, 1944, p. 18
"I couldn't care less, darling," said Frederica who, being on duty in
the ward, could not go to the party.
This Morning . . . With Shirley Povich
Washington Post, Sep 25, 1955, p. C1
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.

These can no doubt be antedated with current database resources. But
the "could care less" variant was likely still a novelty for most
speakers in the late '50s.

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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