I Could Care Less

The other night, Andrew called to ask me about lesbian bar etiquette. There's a lesbian bar near his house that he'd like to visit but he wanted to know whether that would be acceptable. Since I've only ever really been to one lesbian bar, I'm not sure I can call myself an expert, but I'm glad that people are mistaking me for one.

From there, the conversation went a variety of directions including Halloween costumes. Andrew is considering being former French President Francois Mitterrand. Mainly, Andrew wants to represent him because he finds Mitterrand to be a funny figure (he fathered two separate families, one of which he managed to keep secret from the public through most of his political career.) The problem is there is no real obvious Mitterrand costume, so Andrew is concerned he'll just spend the whole night having to explain what he's dressed as. I agreed, deciding that it was one thing if he could just say "I'm Mitterrand" and have everyone understand, but for a lot of people, this was going to require the whole story. I added, "It's probably best to have a costume that you can explain in five words or less... err, five words or fewer."

I was really thrown off by that grammatical slip. "# words or less" is such a common expression that I don't think I've ever stopped to correct it until right in that moment. As a Grammarian, I know the difference between "less" and "fewer": use "fewer" when whatever being described can be counted. And especially in the case of five words, I can count to five (shut up - I can), so it should be fewer.

Distracted, I forgot all about Mitterrand and his legitimately illegitimate kids, and expressed outrage over what is truly outrageous: ungrammatical phrases that are adopted into the English language. The other one that riles me up is "I could care less." People say that when what they mean to say is "I couldn't care less" or "I don't care." Saying you could care less implies that you did care, at least a bit.

That's when I tried a line on Andrew: "I could care less about you." He returned the sentiment and it felt nice. It strikes me as a great way for unaffectionate types to share a fuzzy moment with one another without pushing it too far. "I could care less about you" acknowledges some level of fondness, but stops well short of "I love you" due to its ambiguity.

Henceforth, I propose that everyone use "I could care less about you" as a term of endearment to reclaim the grammatically incorrect cliche as something positive. Together we can vaguely compliment those who mean something to us. Just be sure not to say, "I could care fewer."

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