"I couldn't care less"

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Exhumed, Oct 27, 2007.

  1. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    I always thought "I could care less" was an Americanism. The civilised world says "I couldn't care less."

    But the Americans may have a point, depending on how you read it.

    "I couldn't care less."

    is generally taken to mean "My care factor is already at its lowest possible level. So, it would be impossible to care less."

    "I could care less."

    This COULD be taken as an ironic statement, saying "Hypothetically, it would be possible for me to care less, but in this world caring less would just be extra effort, so I'll be lazy and maintain my current level of care-lessness."

    Or, it could just be that Americans don't know what they're saying. Given their generally low capacity for irony, I suggest this is the likely explanation for most.
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  3. Reiku Banned Banned

    I'd agree.
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I first started hearing "I could care less" in the 1960s. It was definitely meant as sarcasm and it wasn't subtle. It was enunciated rather slowly with extreme pitch dynamics. The whole phrase took about two seconds. "Care" was especially elongated with a markedly rising pitch, and then "less" came in at a much lower pitch. It became so popular that people forgot its literal meaning, lost the dynamics, and ended up saying the exact opposite of what they meant. And everybody thought it was correct.

    This is one of the many ways language evolves. Check out the etymology of the word "flammable."
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  7. superluminal . Registered Senior Member


    Etymology: 19c: from Latin flammare to blaze.

    I assume we're referring to this:

    These mean the same thing; inflammable is not the opposite of flammable, it is simply a version of it preferred in everyday, non-technical contexts.

    When I was younger, I thought inflammable meant not flammable, the same way that inconcievable means not concievable and inconsequential means not of any consequence, or...

    - inconsolable
    - inappropriate


    I understand that inflammable means "can be inflamed" Yes?

    What's up with that fraggle?
  8. superluminal . Registered Senior Member

    Does it always have to come down to this?

    Tsk, tsk.
  9. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Ironic, isn't it?
  10. superluminal . Registered Senior Member

    What? That I, being an american, don't recognize the clear irony in your statements?

    Yes, it is.
  11. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Interesting. I was taught that historically there was actually no such word as "flammable" and that it was made up in the 1950s.
    Yes, that's the point. Gasoline tanker trucks used to have the word INFLAMMABLE emblazoned on them in truck-high letters. Believe it or not, the first generation of Safety Nannies in the 1950s thought Americans were so stupid that they would
    • See a tanker truck with the name of a gasoline company on it, that smelled like gasoline if you got close
    • See the word "inflammable" in giant red letters
    • Say to themselves, "Hmm. If that truck were carrying something dangerous, there'd be no need to put a warning label on it the size of Kansas.
    • They must be warning me that the contents of that truck are NOT dangerous. That's sure logical.
    • After all, "inflammable" starts with in-, and in- always means "not," just like it does in inbred, income, indoor, inflate, ingrained, inlet, innovation, input, inroad, insight... and intelligence, which I have a lot of.
    • Therefore, "inflammable" must mean "not flammable."
    • I've never seen or heard the word "flammable," but it must have something to do with fire. [Maybe it was in the dictionary but nobody ever used it.]
    • So those thoughtful people are telling me that this Shell Oil truck in front of me is full of milk.
    • I think I'll just go ahead and crash into it then.
    Yes. And I don't quite grasp the Latin word flammabile. Flammare is an intransitive verb, which normally would not be allowed to take the -bile suffix because it's not a logical construction.

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