'Could Care Less' Versus 'Couldn't Care Less'

When people tell me their pet peeves, they often mention the phrase “could care less.” They claim it should be “couldn’t care less.” 

“It’s illogical. If you could care less, you still care. Don’t people get it?” they say.

Celebrities have even jumped on the cranky bandwagon. Both David Mitchell and John Cleese have made popular YouTube videos ranting about the illogical phrase “could care less.” Interestingly, both men are British comedians, and they’re both complaining, in particular, about Americans who use the phrase.

Do Americans Say ‘Could Care Less’?

Are Americans really more likely to say they could care less? It appears so, at least when you look at how often that phrase shows up in American books Google has scanned versus British books Google has scanned. It shows up a lot more often in the American books. 

That could mean that Americans use it more, or it could mean that British editors are more strict about changing “could care less” to “couldn’t care less.” But the Oxford English Dictionary calls “could care less” a “U.S. colloquial phrase,” and the linguist Lynne Murphy, who blogs about the differences between British and American English, also notes that Americans say “could care less” far more often than the British.

I think we’re busted! Maybe we Americans are just more caring, so that even when we’re annoyed, we reserve some caring just in case we want to use it later. But probably not.

A Google Ngram showing that could care less is more common in American English

The Origins of ‘Could Care Less’ and ‘Couldn’t Care Less’

The phrase “I…

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Joel Schwartzberg: Get to the Point

In this interview, I talked with Joel Schwartzberg, author of “Get to the Point,” a book about identifying your main point to give better talks, write better articles, and communicate better.

We talked about:

  • The difference between having a point and presenting an idea
  • The intersection between storytelling and getting to the point
  • How to identify your point
  • When you should present your point
  • How and why to avoid “badjectives”
  • How to write better email messages
  • Why greetings are important

Joel is currently Senior Director of Strategic and Executive Communications for the ASPCA in New York City and has been teaching effective presentation techniques to clients including American Express, Blue Apron, the Brennan Center for Justice, Comedy Central, the American Jewish Committee, and North Point Ministries since 2006. His articles on effective point-making have appeared in Fast CompanyHarvard Business ReviewToastmaster Magazine, and The Huffington Post. A frequent conference presenter and workshop leader, Joel is a former national champion and state champion competitive public speaker. After coaching public speaking teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Seton Hall University, Joel was inducted into the National Forensic Association Hall of Fame in 2002. A staunch proponent of the serial comma, Joel can be reached at www.joelschwartzberg.net.

You can listen to the entire interview by clicking the player above or by finding the Grammar Girl podcast on any podcasting app, but if you prefer to read it, we also have a complete (rough) transcript.

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Hey, Writers! You Don't Have to Get Up on Stage for Improv to Boost Your Creativity

In this interview, I talked with Jorjeana Marie, actor, narrator, stand-up comedian, and the author of “Improv for Writers.”

We talked about:

  • What is improv?
  • How can improv help writers? (And no, you don’t actually have to get up on stage.)
  • What is the “yes, and” concept?
  • What is the role of commitment in improv and writing?
  • How can meditation help your writing?

And then we played some short games from her book so you can get an idea of how it works.

You can listen to the entire interview by clicking the player above or by finding the Grammar Girl podcast on any podcasting app, but if you prefer to read it, we also have a complete (rough) transcript.

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How to Make Family Names Plural

Spending time with family is a big part of the holidays, and thinking about family reminded me of a few tricky little quirks of family names and family words that can confuse people. So today I’ll tell you how to make family names plural (even those that end in “x,” “y,” and “z”), how to refer to more than one brother- or sister-in-law, and how to formally address more than one man and more than one woman.

How to make family names plural

First let’s figure out how to make family names plural. Family names are like brand names: you don’t change the base spelling. For example you make “blackberry,” the fruit, plural by changing the “y” to “ies”; but you make “BlackBerry,” the phone, plural by simply adding an “s” to the end: “BlackBerrys.”

It’s the same with names. “Kennedy” becomes “the Kennedys,” and “Disney” becomes “the Disneys.” 

newsletter subscriber named Julie asked if she should make the last name “Bellman” plural by making it “Bellmen,” and the answer is no. Something like “Bellman” becomes “the Bellmans.” It’s a name, so you still just add “s” to the end.

Some names, however, need an “es” to become plural: names that end in “s,” “x,” “z,” “ch,” and “sh,” for example:

  • The Joneses invited you to hold ladders while they hang lights.
  • The Foxes decorated four Christmas trees.
  • The Alvarezes went to visit their grandmother.
  • The Churches sang in the top-hat choir.
  • The Ashes got stuck at the train station.
  • The Flaxes brought pumpkin pie. (An exception is that you just add “s” when the “x” is silent. For example, “The Devareauxs brought pumpkin pie.”)

The same rules apply to first names. If you have two cousins named Alex, they are the Alexes.

Don’t use an apostrophe to make names plural

Never use an apostrophe to make a name plural.

Never use an apostrophe to make a name plural. With names, apostrophes are for possessives.

  • The Joneses’ dinner was a success.
  • The Foxes’ house was beautiful.
  • The Alvarezes’ grandmother was delighted.
  • The Churches’ singing was…

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'More Than' Vs. 'Over'—Why the Associated Press Changed Their Stance

I recently got a listener question about “more than” and “over”:

”Hi, Mignon. My name is Andrea. About 20 years ago, my husband Brian and I were working as reporters at a local newspaper. For the style guide they were very specific when talking about an amount of money such as more than or less than $1 million. We were not allowed to use the words “over” or “under” because they signified a position, a physical position in space like over or under a bridge. Recently, I’ve noticed that a lot of news outlets and television shows are using the “over a million” and “under a million,” and I was just wondering if this was something specific to the newspaper we were working at or if it’s a change in style overall. Thanks, Mignon. Love the Podcast. Bye.”

Thanks, Andrea.

You’re not imagining it, and news outlets haven’t gotten more sloppy. There was a change in Associated Press style.

If you’re the type of person who pays super close attention to the AP Stylebook updates every year, one of the most attention grabbing changes in 2014 was to the entry on “more than” and “over.” Before 2014, AP writers followed the style you learned at your local paper: never use “over” or “under” to talk about numbers. You were supposed to use “more than” or “less than.” But in 2014, the AP Stylebook changed to say you can write it either way—that both are acceptable in all uses to indicate a greater or lesser numerical value. Examples:

  • Salaries went up more than $20 a week. 
  • Salaries went up over $20 a week.


  • The stock fell to less than $40 per share. 
  • The stock fell to under $40 per share.

Both are fine now.

I was lucky enough to be in the room when two of the editors of the AP StylebookDavid Minthorn and Darrell Christian, announced the changes at ACES: The Society for Copy Editing annual meeting.

There was some mild rumbling, but the real ruckus happened on Twitter. Before the talk was even over, Matthew Crowley from the Las Vegas Review-Journal announced to the room that somebody had already tweeted “more than my dead body.” [Get it? That’s a joke because “more than” can’t be substituted for “over” in “over my dead body.”]

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A Peek Behind the Scenes in Publishing

In this interview with Kat Brzozowski, a senior editor at Swoon Reads, we got excited about National Novel Writing Month (November) and all the interesting behind-the-scenes activities at a publishing enterprise such as Swoon Reads.

We talked about:

  • How Swoon Reads lets authors upload manuscripts, readers give feedback, and editors select great books to publish
  • How writers can fix the most common problems Kat sees in submissions
  • How a writer can know when a manuscript is really ready to submit
  • How typos make it into published books
  • What different types of editors do
  • Why writers should stick with “said” for dialogue tags
  • What happens after a manuscript is acquired
  • How new authors can deal with feedback from editors when it might seem extreme (like eliminating a whole character)
  • Which books coming out soon Kat is excited about
  • What kind of books Kat is looking to acquire right now
  • What kinds of books and shows make a good comparison when you’re trying to describe your project

You can listen to the entire interview by clicking the player above or by finding the Grammar Girl podcast on any podcasting app, but if you prefer to read it, we also have a complete (rough) transcript.

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‘Filthy Lucre’: Where Do We Get This Term for ‘Dirty Money’

A few days ago I used the phrase “filthy lucre,” and my husband looked at me like I was speaking a different language. It means something like “dirty money” or “an unclean gain.” I feel like I’ve used that phrase my whole life, but he’d never heard it before.  That got me wondering about its origin.

The Origin of ‘Filthy Lucre’

Before we talk about the phrase, let’s look at the strange word my husband was unfamiliar with—“lucre.” It comes from the Latin word “lucrum,” which also gave us the word “lucrative.” According to Etymonline, “lucrum” meant “gain, advantage, profit; wealth, or riches.”

“Lucre” has had a negative connotation since its earliest days in English. The first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from the theologian John Wycliffe, who in his “Works” from 1380 refers disapprovingly to “worldly honour and lucre.”

Just a few years later in 1386, Chaucer used the term in the “Prioress’s Tale,” referring to the “lucre of villainy.” 

The exact phrase I’m familiar with, “filthy lucre,” didn’t turn up until 1526 when William Tyndale used it as the translation of a line from the Greek version of the Bible’s Book of Titus. In the verse, Paul is warning against false teachers saying they are “teaching things which they ought not, because of filthy lucre.” 

According to a site about the King James Bible called “The King’s English,” the phrase “filthy lucre” appears four times in that version of the Bible, each time being used to refer “to a grave temptation for gospel ministers.”

Given that the word “filthy” has been associated with unseemly money since the 1500s, it’s actually surprising that it took at least 300 more years for people to start describing the wealthy as being “filthy rich.”

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‘Rebut’ or ‘Refute’?

A listener named Luke asked me to write about the difference between the words “rebut” and “refute.”

The Origins of ‘Rebut’ and ‘Refute’

“Rebut” came to English in the 1300s from an Old French word that meant “to thrust back.”

“Refute” came later—from Middle French in the 1500s, but its Latin roots mean something very similar: “to drive back.” So the etymology doesn’t help us much here.

The ways the meanings have resolved today, “rebut” means to make an argument against something, and “refute” means to prove your case against something. In other words, if you rebut something successfully, you have refuted it.

Examples of ‘Rebut’ and ‘Refute’ Being Used Correctly

The Cinderella of the poem (let us imagine) is as radical as the Disney version is safe. She questions some of her culture’s deepest values and beliefs that women should marry men, that rich and handsome princes are automatically desirable, that a man can love a woman even if he can’t remember what she looks like. The other characters in the poem are, of course, horrified by her unorthodox views, and they do everything they can to contradict her. Every time she speaks, they rebut everything she says. But Cinderella is a clever debater, and she holds her own. They go on arguing and arguing until the Fairy Godmother shows up and angrily puts an end to the debate.

― Michael Austin, Re-reading Job: Understanding the Ancient World’s Greatest Poem

I can imagine a number of different ways that one might go about rebutting Poe’s metaphysical truth claims. But it makes no difference whether or not ravens can talk. Nothing about Poe’s poem can be supported, or refuted, by scientific knowledge about the vocalization mechanisms of the Corvus corax.

― Michael Austin, Re-reading Job: Understanding the Ancient World’s Greatest Poem

Using Alternatives to ‘Rebut’ and ‘Refute’

In trying to find examples, I came across many well-known writers who used these words incorrectly, and Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary allows “refute” to have both meanings, so the confusion seems widespread. Still, many style guides, including Garner’s Modern English Usage and the AP Stylebook, strongly say we should continue to…

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3 Rules to Help You With Compound Possession

A listener named Katie wrote in with this question:

How do you show possession to more than one noun?

For example, would you say, “Tom and Jerry’s TV show” and “Ryan and my anniversary”? The latter looks so odd that I end up avoiding it entirely and going with a longer and less efficient, “Ryan and I are celebrating our anniversary on…”

Thanks for the question, Katie! What you’re asking about is called “compound possession” or “joint possession.”

I’ll start with the first part of your question.

1. With Nouns, How You Write a Compound Possessive Depends on Whether Things Are Shared 

If you’re trying to write about possession and you have two subjects that are nouns, you have to decide if the two people possess something together or separately. 

If the two people have the thing together, they can share the apostrophe-S. If they don’t share the thing, then they can’t share the apostrophe-S either. They each need their own.

So, to use your example, if you’re talking about Tom and Jerry’s TV show, they’re the main characters on the same cartoon about a cat and mouse—essentially they share the show—so they can share the marker of possession, and you need only one apostrophe-S at the end: It’s Tom and Jerry’s TV show.

If they are on the same show, it’s ‘Tom and Jerry’s show.’

But let’s say you’re talking about two characters who each have their own TV show. Imagine that Tom hosts a show about famous cats for Animal Planet, and Jerry hosts a spin-off of “MTV Cribs” that is all about tricked out mouse habitats. Now imagine that both those shows got canceled. You’d need to write that “Tom’s and Jerry’s shows were canceled,” putting an apostrophe-S after both “Tom” and “Jerry.” Because Tom and Jerry each have their own separate show, they each also need their own apostrophe-S in that sentence. 

If they are on different shows, it’s ‘Tom’s and Jerry’s shows.’

The same is true if you have more than two people in your sentence: If they all share the same thing, you put one apostrophe-S on the final name in the list. If you want to include the bulldog Spike from the cartoon show, you can call it “Tom, Jerry, and Spike’s show.”

If they all have different things, they each need their own apostrophe-S, although that can get cumbersome. If Spike had a show on HGTV about…

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'Fall' Versus 'Autumn'


Fall officially starts Monday, September 23, this year in the northern hemisphere, but Starbucks doesn’t care; the Pumpkin Spice Latte—a hallmark of fall—has been available for weeks. All the excitement online got me thinking about seasons and why this one seems to have two names: fall and autumn. 

And just to make it more confusing, the first day of fall is also called the autumnal equinox. On the first day of fall (and spring actually), day and night are the same length, and the word “equinox” comes from the same root as the word “equal,” showing that in this 24-hour period, day and night are equal. 

‘Fall’ is more common in the US. ‘Autumn’ is more common in Britain.

The Origin of ‘Fall’

Fall gets its name from the longer phrase “fall of the leaf” that was first used in the mid-1500s. (Spring comes from a similar phrase: “spring of the leaf.”) For whatever reason, the name “fall” became more popular in America more than it did in Britain, and in the US, “fall” is the standard season name.

The Origin of ‘Autumn’

British speakers are more likely to use the older name, “autumn,” which came into English from Old French in the late 1300s. The first reference in the Oxford English Dictionary is from Chaucer: 

Autumn comes again, heavy of apples.

Season names such as “fall” and “winter” are lowercase unless they are part of an official name such as the Winter Olympics.

I love that both “fall” and “spring” describe what’s happening to leaves in those times of year. Now that I know about “fall of the leaf” and “spring of the leaf,” when I’m out on a walk, I look at the trees and their changing leaves in a whole new way.


Wickman, F. “Why is autumn the only season with two names?” Slatehttp://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2012/09/29/why_does_autumn_have_two_names_how_the_third_season_became_both_autumn_and_fall_.html (accessed September 12, 2019).

“Days of the weeks, months, and seasons.” Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, online. Section 8.87. …

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‘Smokey’ or ‘Smoky’?

We’re now solidly into fall, and in the western United States, where I live, we’ve had horrible smoky summers for the last few years because of forest fires. But this year wasn’t so bad, and I’m feeling a little less worried now that the temperatures are getting colder. And feeling grateful for getting a reprieve from a smoky summer this year got me thinking about the word “smoky.”

Between Smokey Robinson, Smokey Bear, and the movie “Smokey and the Bandit,” which are all spelled with an E, you can be forgiven for thinking the correct spelling for the smell of burned wood is “smokey,” but it’s not. The correct spelling is “smoky” (with no E).

The correct spelling for the smell of burned wood is ‘smoky.’

The confusion is largely Smokey Bear’s fault. The poor guy has more important things to worry about—like preventing forest fires—but when the U.S. Forest Service gave the cartoon bear his name in 1944, they spelled it with an E to make it different from the word “smoky,” and all the bear’s time in the limelight led to spelling confusion. 

Then, in the mid-1970s, truckers started calling police officers Smokey Bear or just Smokey because state trooper hats looked a lot like the hat worn by our fire fighting friend, Smokey Bear. The smokey in the movie “Smokey and the Bandit” was a Texas county sheriff named Buford T. Justice, played by Jackie Gleason. 

When “smokey” is a nickname for an officer of the law, it’s spelled S-M-O-K-E-Y, with an E, but otherwise, drop the E.

When ‘smokey’ is a nickname for an officer of the law, it’s spelled with an E.

Here’s a Quick and Dirty Tip to remember that a policeman or ranger’s nickname is “Smokey,” with an E: Think of officers as keeping their eyes on you—eyes, a word with two E’s.

Think of officers as keeping their eyes on you—eyes, a word with two E’s.

Examples of ‘Smokey’ and ‘Smoky’

Tina: [concerned about a sniper outside] But what happens if he hits the gas tank?

Matt Helm: Smokey the Bear won’t like it. Get in.

— Daliah Lavi playing Tina and Dean Martin playing Matt Helm in the movie “…

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'It Is I' Versus 'It Is Me'

It is I, Grammar Girl, here to help you understand when to use the words “I” and “me.”

A listener named Jodie wanted to know which is correct: “It is I” or “It is me.” She says that when she answers the phone and the person asks, “Is Jodie there?” she usually responds by saying, “This is she.” But one of her friends says this is incorrect, and now they have a $5 bet on the question. 

The short answer is that Jodie wins. The traditional grammar rule states when a pronoun follows a linking verb, such as “is,” the pronoun should be in the subject case. It’s also called the “nominative.” That means it is correct to say, “It is I,” and “It was he who dropped the phone in shock when Jodie answered, ‘This is she,’” because “he” is the same type of pronoun as “I.”

What Are Linking Verbs?

Linking verbs are words like “is,” “was,” “were,” “appear,” and “seem,” which don’t describe an action so much as describe a state of being. When pronouns follow these non-action verbs, you use the subject pronouns such as “I,” “she,” “he,” “they,” and “we.” Here are some more correct examples:

Who called Jodie? It was he.

Who told you about it? It was I.

Who had the phone conversation? It must have been they.

Who cares? It is we.

Now the problem is that 90 percent of you are almost certainly thinking, “Well, that all sounds really weird. Is she serious?”

Yes, I’m serious, and that is the traditional rule, but fortunately most grammarians forgive you for not following the rule. In her aptly titled book “Woe Is I,” Patricia O’Connor notes that almost everyone says, “It is me,” and that the “It is I” construction is almost extinct (1).

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage says that it’s a style choice, and that “It is I” is a formal style and “It is me” is a more casual style. In fact, most people who write about language agree that unless you’re answering the phone for the English department at the University of Chicago or responding to a Supreme Court judge—in other words, in a very formal situation for the English language—“That’s me” is an acceptable answer (2, 3, 4).

So even though Jodie is technically correct, it would probably be more fair for her and her friend to take the $5 and go get a cold beverage together.

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