HRC “could care less”, or not.

Hillary Clinton, dismissing Donald Trump’s insults:

I really could care less.

Has the woman no syntactic shame, careening down the slippery slope of yahoo populism? She risks entirely losing the important anglophile grammar peeve vote.

Language Log’s latest on this usage, with links to 12 older ones. I kid you not. It’s quite a thing.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

18 thoughts on “Careless”

  1. "I could care less" is a well established form of sarcastic dismissal that is completely understood by everybody except for the kind of self-styled language"experts" who still carry on about splitting infinitives or ending sentences with prepositions. It's disappointing to see this kind of meaningless pedantry on such a generally good blog.

    1. Sigh. Hyperbolic irony fail once again. Wasn’t the link to 13 Language Log posts saying the usage is standard AmE a good enough clue?


      On the abominable abuse of careen, however – presumably it comes from a simple printer’s typo from career – I’m perfectly serious. This is an essential professional term for Caribbean pirates, the parasitic use for escaping bank robbers adds nothing to career, and it’s very unwise to diss these people. I’m tempted to copy Language Log’s drastic policy on stranded preposition jokes, but Mark won’t let me.

      1. Changing usage is a win/win. People using the language as a tool to convey meaning get to convey their meaning in a way that's plainly understood by their listeners. People like me who get a kick out of knowing the obsoletecorrect usage get our little hit of superiority. When closely parsed, "I could care less" makes little sense, but that just adds another charming idiosyncrasy to a language that's always got room for one more.

    2. Splitting infinitives and ending sentences with prepositions are not errors. Saying "I could care less" when you mean "I couldn't care less" is an error. If an error is all right when it is completely understood by everybody, then, in most cases, we might as well throw the rules of spelling and grammar out the window.

      1. When an error is broadly understood and in common usage, it's no longer an error. That's the natural evolution of language. Sometimes the changes are improvements and sometimes they're not. It makes me a tiny bit sad that "begging the question" now no longer denotes the fallacy of assuming your conclusion and instead just means "raising the question." We already had a perfectly good phrase for that second thing, and no longer have a compact phrase for that first thing, but them's the breaks. There's no privileged frame of reference for viewing a language, and the faster it's moving the less precisely you can know its position. That's Aristotle.

        1. We should distinguish formal writing from everyday conversation. No serious writer would write "I could care less" when he meant its opposite, just as he would not use "impact" for "affect" or "issue" for "problem," even if these have become acceptable in speech.

      2. I long ago came to the conclusion that "I could care less" was a dismissive comment–"I could care less, but it's not worth the time or effort; this is soooooo trivial."

  2. The paradox of a truly and vibrantly living language: a mistake made often enough can become an established idiom. That does not greatly bother me, although it would be an exaggeration to say that I couldn't care less.

  3. I noticed Hilary's response as well and put it down to trying to she that she's a regular fellow or something. More seriously, I wonder if the newer version ("could care less") is just another example of change due to trying to reduce the number of syllables, something along these lines.

  4. Gah, I actually find myself defending Hillary Clinton.

    She used the phrase correctly: She cared enough to comment on the subject, therefore she could have cared less.

    1. She was asked her opinion of Trump's insult. If she does not care at all, how can she convey that without commenting on the subject? By rudely ignoring the question? But that could be interpreted as caring a lot.

      1. That's hilarious. You're writing as though Hillary doesn't exercise a veto over the questions 'reporters' are allowed to ask her.

        If she didn't care, the question wouldn't have been asked.

  5. I view "could care less" as a mishmash of sarcastic "I should care?"* and "I couldn't care less" and it certainly doesn't enrich or sharpen the latter. I suspect career and careen get mixed up in a visual image, a vehicle racing somewhat out of control from side to side and careening [itself, if you demand it be transitive] to the outside of each curve.
    *what Rhett would have said to Scarlett if he had been a New Yorker

    1. An interesting and plausible etymology. The problem is that cars don't rise on to just the two inside wheels outside comics, action movies and cartoons, where it's a common trope. Motorbikes lean in bends of course, but bank robbers need cars to hold the loot.

  6. Oy, James, we're at risk of dispersing very wrong physics here.
    Cars or anything, need a force applied normal to their path to go around a corner. For land vehicles (and runners), this force is applied where they touch the ground, creating a moment around their center of gravity which makes them rotate (in a left turn) clockwise looking ahead. The cartoon illustration of a car actually shows an impossible lean, representing what the driver wants to do to get gravity to balance that moment. Tracks are canted toward the inside of the curve for this reason, same for motorcycle lean in; this is a response to the careening moment.
    If you try to go around a corner in a car, which can't lean in, too fast you will tilt the vehicle up on its outside tires, and then roll it over to the outside of the curve (if you don't skid first). On a motorcycle, you skid and your lean makes you fall down inward.

    1. Yup. I skid corrected. The speeding car leans out. But not nearly enough so you can scrape the barnacles and seaweed off the underside, which is the whole point.

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