Jan Freeman is another consistently excellent writer I should link to more often; her column on “could(n’t) care less” is so compendious that I will never have to address the issue myself. Her conclusion is exemplary: “Last month in Reader’s Digest, this month in the Simmons College Voice, all over the Web, 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.” And along the way she has a delightful overview of the peeves of our forefathers:
Among the peeves of 100 years ago, there are plenty of short-lived scandals, nits nobody has picked since the Treaty of Versailles. Usagists once scorned ovation (for “applause”) because the word “really” meant a minor Roman triumph. Dirt was supposed to mean “filth,” not good clean soil. Reliable was called a “monstrous” coinage, practitioner “a vulgar intruder.” But none of these rulings had much effect.
In our time, bemused has quietly shifted its sense from “befuddled” to something like “wryly or quizzically amused.” Apparently everyone finds it more useful in its new role, because objections (though they have been recorded) are relatively rare. The transition from “was graduated from college” (once the proper form) to “graduated from,” in the 19th century, met little resistance, and the 20th-century move to the simpler “graduated college” is well underway.
Other peeves just won’t die. Aggravate was aggravating Latin-minded usage writers in the 1860s, and you still hear from people who think it should mean only “make worse,” not “annoy.” Other issues nearing the 150-year mark are the propriety of “there’s two more,” the use of decimate to mean “destroy,” and the debate between “taller than I” and “taller than me.” Compared to these hardy perennials, “could care less” is a mere sprout.
You think the language is going to hell in a handbasket? Me, I could care less.
Apropos of nothing, I have to pass on a quote I found at wood s lot:
“What have you done with all your words & gaudy language hats?” –Lara Glenum