[Ads-l] antedating OED on "could care less"

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Mar 9 18:10:11 UTC 2021

Thanks for sharing an excellent citation, Pat, and a thoughtful
analysis of the possible evolution of the construct.

Back in 2018 Ben Zimmer antedated the OED when he posted a message
with citations in September 1955 and January 1954.

Below is an instance of "I could care less" with the desired sense (I
think) in Ottawa, Canada in July 1948.

Date: July 20, 1948
Newspaper: The Evening Citizen (The Ottawa Citizen)
Newspaper Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Article: Novel Race Between Citron and The Frost
Author: W. T. Larmour (Evening Citizen Writer)
Quote Page 3, Column 6
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
The idea is that because their frost comes earlier (if it does) the
Gatineau goers are a more rugged, tougher breed than people who stick
around in Ottawa. I could care less!
[End excerpt]

Garson O'Toole

On Tue, Mar 9, 2021 at 12:39 PM Mailbox <mailbox at grammarphobia.com> wrote:
> The OED's earliest sighting of "could care less" is from 1966, and it's labeled "U.S. colloquial phrase." But my husband and I have found evidence of it in Australia in 1949, clearly used in the modern sense of "could not care less." We found interdatings from earlier in the 60s as well, in editing writing.
> We report this in an updated post on our blog: https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2012/12/more-about-caring-less.html <https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2012/12/more-about-caring-less.html>
> A letter written in 1949, and entered into testimony in a divorce court in Perth in 1950, has at least five examples of "I could care less." The letter was excerpted two years later in a news article about the divorce (The Mirror, Perth, June 28, 1952).
> We didn't include the link to the article, so here it is:
> https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/75777641?searchTerm=%22could+care+less%22 <https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/75777641?searchTerm=%22could+care+less%22>
> Some of the excerpts we quote:
> "I did love you with all the passion and love that is possible of a man (if you can call me a man in your idea) and now I could care less."  … "But at the present time I could care less." … "I don't care how you take it, I could care less." … "I'm writing how I feel and I could car [sic] less. Goodnight Zoe and goodbye if you wish it—I could care less."
> We've also found "could not care less" from 1892 (OED has only the contracted form, from 1946).
> Our post ventures to speculate about the development of "could care less." Rather than being ironic, it could be a natural extension of a literal construction in which a negative element ("no one," "none," "few," "nobody,” conditional “if," etc.) appears before “could care less." We give examples, beginning in the 1860s, for British and American uses of this construction: "few men … could care less," "no man could care less," "no one could care less," "nobody could care less," "neither of them could care less," "I don’t believe they could care less," and so on.
> As we note, it's not much of a jump from "nobody could care less" to "they could care less."
> Pat O’Conner
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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