Caring, More or Less

[An essay on semantics from LionAroundWriting has inspired me to write about one of my linguistic pet peeves.]

“Francis?” Rex shrugged his shoulders, the action on his tall slender frame resembling a coat hanger being pulled straight up. “Thought he didn’t fence saber.”

Annie tugged a glove onto her right hand, its sleeve extending several inches down the forearm, covering the jacket sleeve. “He’s beaten just above everyone in the state in epee, and foil. Guess he’s looking for a new challenge.”

“Huh.” Rex pulled a mask down from the top of his head, covering his face, voice now muffled through the tight gray metal mesh. “Good for him. Me, I could care less.”

“Couldn’t.” Annie stopped preparing for practice, stared intently up at Rex. “You couldn’t care less.”

Rex nodded, confusion evident on his caged face. “Yeah, that’s right. Don’t matter to me, if he does saber.”

“So why’d you just say you could care less?” Annie’s left arm hung down her side, fencing mask dangling loosely from her hand as if she were about to let it drop.

Rex lifted the mask off his face, resting it back on top of his head. “What — ”

“You said you could care less.” Annie now grasped the mask firmly, pointed it up at Rex. “But you meant, you couldn’t care less.”

Rex blinked. Frowned. “OK. Couldn’t care less. Got it.” He raised a hand up to his mask, but as he grabbed its cloth bib to pull it back down over his face, stopped himself. “Can I ask, why you care?”

Annie had already masked her face. “I don’t care. Just thought you should know, that what you said, isn’t what you meant.”

“But you knew what I meant anyway, right?”

Annie’s face froze behind its protective fence. “Perhaps — ” the sound of thin metal blades colliding on the strip behind them bounced off the tiled floor of the cateria — “we should start fencing.”

With a smile of relief and just a hint of victory, Rex pulled his mask back down.

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