Could you care less? Indeed you could
Oliver Wendell Holmes fils famously said about the common law, “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” The same holds true for the life of the language.
I’m reminded of this point (which I’ve made before, but were you listening?) on reading Jan Freeman’s latest column on language in The Boston Globe, in which she points out that—brace yourself, here it comes—could care less has become a perfectly acceptable idiomatic expression, even though it gets up the nose of people who think that only couldn’t care less is correct.
“[A]ll over the Web,” she writes, “sober professionals and spelling-impaired amateurs continue to insist that ‘I could care less’ really must mean ‘I care to some extent.’ But it doesn’t; it never has; it never will.” She’s right, and while some people may itch with irritation when someone says, “I could care less,” no one ever mistakes the meaning. The expression, Ms. Freeman points out, has been around for half a century and shows no indication of fading away.
English, like any language has identifiable patterns, like the order of adjectives,* that grammarians and linguists can catalogue. But its patterns are not those of logic. And it is full of idiosyncratic elements, like its notoriously wayward spellings.
Idioms, in any language, convey meanings that cannot be determined from the literal sense of the words. So you can object to an idiom and shun it because you find it trite or common or inappropriate for the tone or subject or audience. But you don’t get to kvetch about it for being illogical. Idioms are inherently illogical. Here’s an idiom: Put a sock in it. You may not care for could care less, but I could care less about your objections. And frankly, apart from the tiny company of peevers, no one else gives a tinker’s damn either.
*opinion, size, shape, condition, age, color, origin, material