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Phil O'Hearn

Could You Care Less, Y'all?
by Phil O'Hearn

September 2004

Many writers read this web site, and I would like to share a pet peeve of mine concerning a phrase often misspoken. Apparently writers write this misspoken phrase because actors misspeak it frequently. I hear it on network television shows and in major motion pictures. The phrase is "I could care less."

If a person could care less implies that they care somewhat. What they mean to say is that they couldn't care less. If a person couldn't care less that means that they do not care at all. So when a person says, "I could care less," they misspeak. And what they are saying does not express their desired meaning.

Language evolves and we all know evolution is imperfect.

Did you know "Ye Olde Tavern" evolved from a mistake? Our language had at one point in time a theta symbol. The theta symbol represented the sound for which we now use the letters "th." The theta symbol also looked like the letter "Y." So someone mistook the theta symbol for the letter "Y." And, therefore, The Olde Tavern became Ye Olde Tavern by mistake.

The two previous examples are mistakes. But sometimes words or phrases change to become more literally true or meaningful. In recent years people have been using the phrase "begging the question" to mean that something makes a certain question unavoidable or needed. For centuries the phrase "begging the question" primarily dealt with philosophical issues and meant to avoid giving a straight answer: petitio principii. Petitio Principii describes the fallacious reasoning of founding a conclusion on something that is as unproven as the conclusion itself, circular reasoning.

But now "begging the question" is used not in the philosophical sense but literally. A poison victim, for detectives, may beg the question: from whence came the poison? Probably only philosophers will object to this usage.

Common usage brings us back to "ye." "Y'all" is the southern equivalent of "ye." "Ye" was used as the second person plural pronoun. Presently, in modern American English "you" is used as singular and plural and can be confusing. Therefore, in the south we use "you" as singular and "y'all" as plural. In some areas of the country "youse guys" is used as the plural, but this, in my opinion, is far inferior to "y'all."

And, therefore, the nonsensical "Ye Olde Tavern" could actually be interpreted as an exclamation: "Y'all, Old Tavern." This is silliness. And it begs the question: do you care? But if you do not care, please say that you COULDN'T care less.

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