Word Abuse: DISINTERESTED, UNINTERESTED and MISINTERESTED


This is exactly the type of word-related argument that we grammarians love to settle.   Here we see some similar, but commonly-confused, words.   So, to lay your mind to rest, here we shall for the last time explain the difference:

disinterested means “neutral”, “impartial” or “not being an interested party”.
uninterested is the one that means indifferent, “not giving a toss”, etc.

And there is no reason to mix them up!  Only a neanderthal would do so!   But we never would, which makes us better people than you!!
The only possible reason to confuse this pair is because, in the past, their meanings were reversed, with a bored schoolboy being “disinterested” and a good judge “uninterested”.

But anybody who confuses the words today has no excuse, and is in need of a good telling-off!    Perhaps even violence!   I’ll probably still give you a lecture even if you use my preferred meaning, because that means breaking the Old rules, for which I still have some modicum of respect.

The worst part is that dictionaries are taking a neutral line towards Word Abusers!   Most of them will mention that the meanings used to be different, but it gets even worse.   They add that “disinterested” is often used today to mean “uninterested”, that this is usually accepted by most people, and
the sense intended is almost always clear from the context.[1]

Context?!   Do these heathens really believe that we correctors care one jot about context?!   If there be anything in a sentence that could possibly confuse anybody, we pounce onto it and hold it aloft as proof of our superior grasp of English.   Not a literal grasp, we must add.


We will add a usage note for an often-overlooked word:

misinterested means “having gained an interest in something, e.g. language pedantry, without fully understanding it, and then making foolish comments”.

Other words to avoid
The same goes for mistrust and distrust: one is much stronger than the other.
And sensible and nonsensical:  surely, for the words to be logical opposites, they should be SENSICAL and NONSENSIBLE?   No?


More words’ misuse: GAY and others >
Word Infamy Main List

See also
Overlook

 
Uninterested or disinterested?
(Furthermore, if you are bored of this page, you shouldn
t be! You may be bored with it, bored by it, tired of it, bored of it and sick of it, but never bored of it! Heaven forfend! And we’re certainly not just making this shite up as we go along – we’re making it up whilst we go along. There’s an huge difference.)

[Image released CC-BY-3.0: "Uninterested or disinterested" by PEF Web-Mister]
 

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