DISINTERESTED: “free of bias and self-interest; impartial” — The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

For our ultimate Glitterary Week article, I have dragged out disinterested, which some of you expressed an interest in. I thought it was well-known that disinterested means “impartial,” and that uninterested referred to someone who was blasé. Obviously that is not the case. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present Exhibits A and B:

“The Lakers have either been disinterested or dysfunctional in the final six weeks of the season.” — “NBA Western Conference playoff preview,” The Washington Post, April 17, 2010

“The period ended with the disinterested Devils being booed loudly as they were headed to their third straight opening-round elimination.” — “Flyers beat Devils, 3-0, to take series,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 23, 2010

Lest you chalk those examples up to the Neanderthal language skills of sportswriters, please refer to Exhibit C:

“Both the cinematographer and Nolan are disinterested in digital cinematography and very much prefer to shoot on film. That’s the root of their disinterest in 3D… The appeal of IMAX and the disinterest in 3D both come from that love of shooting on film.” — “Dark Knight Cinematographer Wally Pfister Talks Batman 3 and 3D,” /Film, April 21, 2010

Egad. That’s three misuses of the same word in two paragraphs. What do you expect? It’s a blog.

Now, I would go on and on about how judges are disinterested while teenagers are uninterested, but I won’t, for two reasons: 1) would it matter? 2) even if it mattered, it wouldn’t matter. Misusers would just argue that being unenthusiastic is the same as having no stake (which is not true, anyhow. A defense lawyer might be uninterested in a case, but he is far from disinterested); and 3) the meaning has already begun its shift to legitimacy. AHD4 lists as its second definition “2. a. not interested; indifferent; b. having lost interest” Merriam-Webster Online lists “not interested” as its first definition. ADH4 and NOAD refuse to acknowledge the shift, with 88% of ADH4‘s Usage Panel disdaining it. But Random House and Merriam-Webster claim the “new” definition is not new at all, with M-W citing a letter Jack London wrote in 1914.

As for me, I’ll leave it up to you. After all, I’m disinterested in what you decide.

Otto E. Mezzo

References: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/16/AR2010041604535.html?hpid=topnews
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/disinterested (Contains usage note from ADH4)
New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd edition (2005)

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