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I could care less: phrases gone wrong


This post is going to look at five phrases that are often misquoted. Using these phrases correctly in your writing will surely make you sound more professional.


I could care less

Let’s start with the phrase mentioned in the title. When you say ‘I could care less’, what you’re saying is that you do care a little bit, but you could care less than that… Most likely the phrase that you actually mean is ‘I couldn’t care less’, which means that you absolutely do not care:

“Hey David. So did you hear that Aisha from marketing is leaving?”
“I heard and I couldn’t care less.”

We can probably assume David doesn’t think too highly of Aisha from marketing.

People tell me all the time that skating is dangerous but I couldn’t care less: I love the thrill of it.

So, is ‘I could care less’ wrong? Well, not really. But just know that it means that you do care, but not very much. On the scale of caring a lot and not caring at all, ‘I could care less’ is somewhere in the middle, whereas ‘I couldn’t care less’ is all the way at the not caring at all side.

So, how much do you care that Aisha from marketing is leaving? Not at all or a teeny tiny bit?

Also, if your name is Aisha and you happen to work in marketing, I apologise. Names, characters, and incidents are the products of my imagination and any resemblance is purely coincidental.

It didn’t say much but it only confirmed that the centre of the earth is the end of the world.

And I could really care less.

Green Day – Jesus of Suburbia

Down packed

You know what? Even I got this one wrong once upon a time! So, if you’ve ever got this one confused, I will happily forgive you. That being said, let’s set the record straight.

The phrase we’re looking for here is ‘down pat’. What this means is that you’ve got something memorised and perfected, or close to:

  • “Thanks for showing me how to create a formula in Excel. I think I’ve finally got it down pat.”
  • After several recording sessions, the guitarist has got his chord changes down pat.

But why ‘pat’? What does it even mean? I have to agree with you here. I even googled what the ‘pat’ means in ‘down pat’ and it seems no one can agree. It looks like ‘pat’ is an old word for something done correctly, or something done without thinking about it. Yeah… Never heard of it.

Anyway… I hope you’ve got that down pat now.

For all intensive purposes

This is a good one! And you know what? Many people use this phrase just to sound smart, whether they’re saying it correctly or not!

The correct expression is… ?… For all intents and purposes! Okay, so what does it mean? It means ‘In effect’, or ‘essentially’:

You’ll often hear this expression used in business and legal scenarios.

  • For all intents and purposes, our work on this project has been completed.
  • Understanding my role in managing the Penske file was, for all intents and purposes, a win in my books.

My beef with this phrase is that it’s so damn long. Can you still push your point across without saying a million syllables? Yes. Yes you can. There are so many other ways to say ‘For all intents and purposes’. In fact, half the time you can drop the phrase entirely! Look at that second example. Understanding my role in managing the Penske file was a win in my books. Does that still make sense? Absolutely! Like I said; it’s just a long phrase used to make yourself sound smart. Can we retire it? Well, in my opinion, for all intents and purposes, I am of the belief that we can.

In stall

The correct expression here is ‘in store’. It means something that’s planned, or about to happen:

  • Claude was having a pretty smooth day at work, but he had no idea what was in store…
  • If you’re looking for the latest new hi-tech gadget, wait and see what our company has in store
  • This feature is not currently available but you never know what’s in store.

You could say in store means ‘just around the corner’.

The phrase is not ‘in stall’ or ‘install’. In fact, install is an entirely different word.

Nip it in the butt

Last but not least… Nip it in the butt. Is that right? You’re telling someone to bite something in the bottom? The correct phrase here is ‘Nip it in the bud‘.

The phrase means to stop something in its tracks, before the problem gets bigger:

  • Gotham Police Department nipped the problem in the bud by arresting all the leaders of the crime syndicate.
  • This accounting error may be marginal at this time, but we need to nip it in the bud before our company loses thousands of dollars.

The meaning behind this phrase is about plucking a bud before it grows into a full flower.

How did you go? Learn anything new? Are there any other phrases that people get wrong that irritate you? Or even just everyday phrases. Besides my ‘for all intents and purposes’ rant, above, there are two other office terms that bug me:

  • Touch base
  • Skeleton staff

There are so many other ways to say these two expressions. Touch base? What is that? Stop touching my bases! And skeleton staff? So you work at the ghost train at the amusement park is it? You get my drift.