Tuesday Pet Peeve: Careless North Americans

A certain phrase has been on my mental pet peeves list for a while. Every time I hear someone say it, it jars – it’s not one of those UK*/North America differences where both ways are equally valid and I just have to get used to it, because the North American version is clearly just plain WRONG!

However, for some reason I’ve never felt quite strongly enough about this issue to blog about it (not on a Tuesday, anyway).

Last week, though, I was catching up on some (very) old podcasts and found that John Cleese has already said everything I wanted to say on the matter, much more eloquently than I ever could:

(ETA: Eva pointed out that David Mitchell has had a very similar rant on this subject

Love it!)


Now I have something to which I can refer people who challenge and/or mock me for saying “I couldn’t care less”. I will continue to say it this way because a) I’m still British, damnit and b) it’s correct, whereas the North American way really doesn’t make any sense (sorry).

A plague of dead parrots on people who carelessly say “I could care less” when they don’t care at all!


*I say UK just because I’m not 100% sure which version is used in Australia, New Zealand, or Ireland, although I suspect they all say “I couldn’t care less”. 

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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24 Responses to Tuesday Pet Peeve: Careless North Americans

  1. Liz says:

    ha, this has been a pet peeve of mine for ages too. Is this a mistake specifically made by north americans? I'm in Canada and hear people say the correct and incrrect version probably about equally as often, and have never understood how people do not realize that the phrase is incorrect

  2. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Ha, yeah, Canada once again falls into the middle ground 🙂 I've probably heard Canadians use both versions, but I only really notice when they say "I could care less", because like I said, it really jars… I have persuaded my (Canadian with British parents) husband to switch after pointing out to him why one version is wrong. "I'd honestly never thought about that!", was his stunned response, and now he's a true convert 🙂

  3. Anonymous says:

    I can confirm that the phrase is "I couldn't care less". But then again we're a bunch of inbred sheep farmers on one side of the Tasman Sea and the refuse of her majesty's prison system on the other. So what would we know?-antipodean

  4. EcoGeoFemme says:

    I'm North American and I know the correct way! But I hear LOTS of people say it wrong, too. It is indeed annoying.

  5. GMP says:

    Thank you! I have always thought it was "I couldn't care less" but being a non-native speaker no one believes me over a native speaker. You have cheered me up!

  6. Professor in Training says:

    Cleese is right on the money. I couldn't care less. Or, alternatively, my Care Factor is currently at zero. /another non-American

  7. Eva says:

    David Mitchell did a similar rant about it:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=om7O0MFkmpwI guess both of them *could* care less about people saying they could care less.

  8. Nina says:

    I've never heard people say this wrong, but I'll pay more attention now. It doesn't make sense at all no to care less than 0. Although in some cases … you know, when you really could care -100 about something really insignificant…

  9. pika says:

    Like Nina, I've never heard people say this wrong here either, but maybe I just wasn't paying enough attention (because I usually do notice such things).Kind of cool though that in comments you already got answers from all the places that you listed in your asterisk.

  10. biochem belle says:

    I'm a non-careless North American! The phrase "I could care less" just never made any sense to me, as the excellent argument by John Cleese illustrates. It's ridiculous. Perhaps some in the States do it just to be less British. Poppycock, I say. Then again at times, I've been convinced I'm a Brit trapped in an Americans body because really-what self-respecting Southern belle would prefer a nice hot cup of Earl Grey over sickeningly sweet ice cold tea? That would be me. Cold tea disgusts me… as does "I could careless". Now excuse me while I go shore up the defenses.

  11. Grrlscientist says:

    d00d: this north american couldn't care less.

  12. Thomas Joseph says:

    I couldn't not care less!

  13. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Antipodean, you know more than some, clearly :)EGF, I'm glad there are North Americans fighting the good fight! I guess I really just don't notice when people say it correctly…GMP, glad to hear it! I don't know why people won't believe you; most non-native English speakers I know have a much better grasp of the technicalities of the language than I do, because in the era in which I went to school in England, we weren't taught formal grammar. My parents were both teaching modern languages at the time and would get incredibly frustrated with repeated whines of "why do the French/Germans/Spanish have to have all this grammar? We don't in English!" I picked up all the rules I do know just from reading practically non-stop from the age of 4 onwards!PiT, I like the alternative version. Clear and unambiguous!Eva, thanks for that! Excellent stuff (including the bit about herbs). I'll add it to the post as soon as I've finished answering comments(and yes, there is clearly some caring about this subject going on 🙂 )Nina, the video that Eva linked to mentions that caring a negative amount is still caring – like the difference between love and hate!Let me know if you hear any infractions!Pika, gotta love the blogosphere for collecting that kind of info!BB, LOL! Well done on the hot tea preference too :)I'm never sure how much the anti-Brit sentiments expressed from time to time in certain segments of the blogosphere actually reflect the feelings of US citizens in general. Although I'm still wondering if it was my Union Jack helmet that got me singled out for special attention during my bike ride down to Seattle… (and by special attention I mean "I got shot at").Grrl, glad to hear it!Thomas, um, good?

  14. Alyssa says:

    Oh my gosh – I absolutely cannot stand it when people say "I could care less"!!!! That means you COULD care less, therefore the topic IS something you care about!! GRRRRRR….What's funny is that as soon as I read your first paragraph, I knew it was going to be about that saying! It's so frustrating.

  15. Alyssa says:

    PS: I'm sharing this on FB in the hopes to spread the knowledge that "I could care less" is WRONG. 🙂

  16. Thomas Joseph says:

    Can someone hold down the fort while I'm gone?

  17. Mermaid says:

    Love it! Others that drive me crazy: “For all intensive purposes” “Mute point”Any my personal favourite: “Escape goat!”

  18. biochem belle says:

    Mermaid, seriously? You've heard/seen these? No wonder everyone thinks we Americans are a bunch of bloody idiots!

  19. Thomas Joseph says:

    The "It's a mute point." drives me insane.

  20. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Alyssa, I love that you got it so quickly! (although I guess the title was a give away). The rants seem to be continuing on Facebook…Thomas, off to get some erbal tea, are you? :)Mermaid, I LOVE the image of an escape goat! Kinda like a Trojan horse, but in reverse! I really hope someone says that to me in person now so I can mock them.I liked the episode of Friends where Joey says "it's a moo point", and when asked to explain he says "it's like a cow's opinion. It doesn't matter".BB, I don't think that kind of mistake is limited just to the US, at all!

  21. Anonymous says:

    antipodean alternative: "Tell your story walking, fella"This is useful not only because you are telling somebody you couldn't care less but are efficiently telling them to fuck off as soon as possible at teh same time.-antipodean

  22. Massimo says:

    I really could care less about this whole subject, but I can't help caring just enough to write a comment 🙂

  23. rpg says:

    It was funny but I knew what you were talking about by the end of your second para.I *could* care less about this. It's important.

  24. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    This is getting very meta and confusing!rpg, funny is always the primary objective 🙂

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