Another grammatical dilemma facing writers is the common expression: I couldn’t care less vs. I could care less. A colleague once asked me which way I used this expression. I had never thought about it until she brought it up.
Apparently, the expression, I couldn’t care less has frustrated writers for quite some time. According to Grammar Girl, the expression originated in Great Britain and caught on in the US in the 1950’s. About ten years later we in the US began saying, “I could care less.”
As for me, I grew up saying, “I could care less.” I realize this is grammatically incorrect because it does not actually say what I mean. What I mean is I simply don’t care at all. If you don’t care at all, there’s no caring left. But when I say, “I could care less,” I’m actually saying I have some caring left. Nonetheless, I understand the meaning when someone says to me, “I could care less.”
My friend explained that she always said, “I couldn’t care less.” She grew up with the grammatically correct expression. When she came South, she heard people say, “I could care less.” That makes me wonder if the incorrect expression is a matter of geography.
As writers we often use idiomatic expressions to demonstrate geography. For example, my Southern character might say, “I flat out had a hizzy fit when he said, ‘I could care less.'” My English character might tell me to, “Sod off–I couldn’t care less. . .” That makes me think that we may want to consider less about the grammatical construction and more about the character’s dialogue.
Given that twist, what are your thought? BTW I just read a book in which all the characters no matter where they were from said, “I couldn’t care less.” I’m sure the writer was trying to be grammatically correct, but at the same time, she didn’t use dialogue to distinguish her characters.
So. . .as for me, I couldn’t care less that you could care less.
Perhaps the thing to do would be to check where the author (who used the correct form of the idiom) was from. She may have used the phrase to which she was accustomed without having given it a second thought (which suggests, of course, that she had given it a first thought and hadn’t simply written it without thinking about it at all).
Joan Curtis says
The author may not have given it a thought, but as authors, we must think about how our characters might say things. This stood out for me. As an author, I don’t want anything to stand out. I want the readers to read and not hit a Stop Sign.