Thursday, March 13, 2008

You Could?

Today, I spoke with someone on the phone. He was really frustrated. REALLY frustrated. I mean, I could hear him stomp his feet and imagined his arms were flailing all around. I'm SURE his face was turning red. His part of the discussion built up to the end when he pretty much yelled, "And you know what? I COULD CARE LESS!!!"

That probably wouldn't be the best time to point out the error of this phrase, right?

Don't worry. I didn't. But, I wanted to do so. Instead, I literally bit my tongue and - as always - tried not to laugh. I rarely succeed.

There are numerous ways in which we flub up our words and pronunciations and grammar, and there is no crime in that. We're human. (I do it all of the time here on the blog.) But, it isn't common to find a phrase that is used by numerous people which is the exact opposite of what they mean to say.

I have been in a few meetings through the years where I haven't been sure if a participant really meant to use the phrase. It can take a while to figure that out because we hear it used incorrectly so often.

My cousin Stephen has the tendency of not using exactly the right words to explain himself. We have a good chuckle when we get together and tease each other about everything. At Christmas, he told me that he could care less about something. I told him I think he meant to say 'I COULDN'T care less.' He told me he couldn't care less about what I think about what he should say. It serves me right.


Kelly Spezzano said...

hee hee... could you imagine how much angrier that man would've been if you had pointed out his mistake? Some people just don't take constructive criticism well! LOL

Elizabeth said...

I don't know. I think both forms of the phrase are fairly legitimate. To say that you could care less about something, that seems to say that you can actually put less effort into caring about something. For example you were putting a lot of time into doing something, but you had other obligations, then perhaps you could say, I could care less about doing the first task.

Whereas to say, "I couldn't care less" communicates exasperation with a given situation that you really aren't content to be involved with.

Of course, most people use (or mean to use) the latter form, but even the incorrectly used phrase deserves some credit. :)

Jeremy Sarber said...

I make flubs like that all of the time. I can't talk right. I blame my original Southern influence.

Your angry caller reminded of when I worked as a customer service rep (answered phones and dealt with less-than-happy customers). I had one lady who was angrier than I've ever heard someone be. She finally screamed into the phone, "Go to hell!"

In my typical casual tone I said, "Now, that's not very nice."

Apparently, if you don't get angry back, it only upsets people more. She cursed for awhile and I used the time to complete a game of solitaire. I sort of miss that job.

strem said...

Elizabeth: Yes, I know both forms can be used correctly... just like those few times at work when they actually were being used correctly. But, it just makes me laugh when someone is trying to tell someone how mad or exasperated they are, and they say the other version. (See, I probably didn't write my post clear enough... as I was trying to say exactly what you said in your comment. Two correct versions. Most only use one. Many use the one incorrectly.)

Jeremy, I have had the same findings. Every once in a while, when I am calm and nice, the other party realizes how angry or out of control he/she is. However, it seems that most of the time it just makes them more upset. Your comment made me laugh out loud.

Dani said...


mike3e said...

YES! Thank you for this post, Strem!!!

Other grievances of mine include use of the non-word "irregardless" and also the confusion about whether "turning up" the air conditioning means to make the room colder or warmer.

strem said...

Oh, Mike, Mike. The air/heat situation came up once again this weekend at church. Irregardless, I kept my mouth shut except to smile widely. You crack me up!