« Another British Memo... | Main | Anonymous Sourcing »

June 12, 2005

Comments

I used disinterest to describe the state of actively suppressing one's revulsion for evil situations so that you can justify not doing anything about them. I'm not sure if that is an entirely correct usage, but I was definitely trying to convey something different from mere uninterest.

I'm not sure if it's an entirely correct usage either, but I see exactly what you mean, so I think it's a valid usage.

FWIW, while I normally react in the same way as Gary to usage of "disinterest" when "uninterest" is clearly meant, your usage in the above paragraph did not trigger that proofreader's instinct to draw a line through it and note in the margin "suggest you meant "uninterest" or "lack of interest", so I think that I may have picked up your intended meaning.

(I have consciously worked to suppress acting on this instinct when reading blogs/e-mails on mailing lists, since my feeling is that letting it loose only causes ill-will: there is no point in picking on how people write when they write casually and fast, and nothing diverts an argument faster than changing the topic to how the the language is being used than what the argument's actually about. Both of the professional writing groups I've belonged to online have had that rule, and I think it's a good one.)

I think I was thinking along these lines--uninterest can be mere apathy, disinterest is a state of mind that one has to assume. Uninterest can be passive, but disinterest is active.

I think that this is an actual change of meaning - though I'd very much like to consult the OED, and will, next time I'm near a copy of it - but a useful change. Because there is a state of mind where you actively work on not being interested: the nearest phrase I've seen describing that is "with studied indifference", and "disinterest" is certainly shorter.

I generally consider myself fairly educated when it comes to the English language, and I've always taken "disinterest" to be more or less interchangeable with "uninterest" in casual usage, but in practice that it indicates precisely what Sebastian said: a more active and deliberate lack of interest.

Personally, ever since I first read it I've been fond of the phrase "aggressively disinterested". Very evocative.

While there are many spelling, usage and grammar quirks that set me off, by far the worst are:

- Affect and effect. For a long time, the internal tool at my company sent out outage notifications with a template that read "SYSTEMS EFFECTED". I was the only one who ever changed it, and with little grace.

- Loose and lose. I trust this one needs no explanation.

- Nauseous and nauseated. Because something is nauseous, you feel nauseated. I've come to accept that "feeling nauseous" has passed into common coin, but it still irritates me.

That said, I am not without sin in this regard. At some point--I'm not certain when, but I must have been extremely young because I can scarce remember /not/ knowing the word--I picked up an incorrect pronunciation for "egregious". Unfortunately, I was not corrected on it until I was in my late 20s, by which point it had set in. I've been trying ever since to fix my pronunciation, but have only succeeded in mangling the word further. Most vexing.

Catsy: - Nauseous and nauseated. Because something is nauseous, you feel nauseated. I've come to accept that "feeling nauseous" has passed into common coin, but it still irritates me.

My wife and I were just discussing this one last night. I think this is a lost cause, and rightly so. I have never heard anyone use "nauseous" to mean "causing nausea", except in the context of smugly pointing out this distinction. English speakers tend to use "nauseating", instead, and even if one did use "nauseous", it would only lead to confusion for the listener or reader.

My biggest pet peeve is folks who overcompensate by using "and I" even when "and me" is correct.

According to the OED:

Disinterested--(ppl. a.)

1. Without interest or concern; not interested, unconcerned. (Often regarded as a loose use.)

2. Not influenced by interest; impartial, unbiased, unprejudiced; now always, Unbiased by personal interest; free from self-seeking. (Of persons, or their dispositions, actions, etc.)


Uninterested--(ppl. a.)

1. Unbiassed, impartial. Obs.

2. Free from motives of personal interest; disinterested. Obs.

3. Unconcerned, indifferent. In this sense disinterested is increasingly common in informal use, though widely regarded as incorrect: see DISINTERESTED ppl. a. 1.

Only disinterested 1 and uninterested 3 are in common usage.

I have heard that Matthew Arnold is in part responsible for the semantic drift of "disinterested," as he popularized a rather looser meaning for the term.

Anyway, from Bryan Garner's Modern American Usage:

disinterested; uninterested. Given the overlapping nouns (see disinterest), writers have found it difficult to keep the past-participial adjectives entirely separate, and many have given up the fight to preseve the distinction between them.

But the distinction is still best recognized and followed because disinterested captures a nuance that no other word quite does. Many influential writers have urged the preservation of its traditional sense. The typically understated A.R. Orange rhapsodized over the word: "No word in the English language is more difficult [than disinterestedness] to define or better worth attempting to define. Somewhere or other in its capacious folds it contains all of the ideas of ethics and even, I should say, of religion....I venture to say that whoever has understood the meaning of 'disinterestedness' is not far off understanding the goal of human culture."Readers and Writers (1917-1921) 29 (1922; repr. 1969).

A disinterested observer is not merely "impartial" but has nothing to gain from taking a stand on the issue in question. [...]

SH wrote: I used disinterest to describe the state of actively suppressing one's revulsion for evil situations so that you can justify not doing anything about them.
I think the second step is an extrapolation. Yes, disinterestedness implies the position of a removed observer, even a spectator, but it does not follow that the observer-position is necessarily inactive. In traditional explications of disinterestedness emphasize the observer's power of judgment--which tends to imply power of action, albeit of a certain kind...

Since this is an open language thread, and since I'm uninterested in the semantic domain of "disinterested", here's an unrelated language question for you.

My wife works as a paraprofessional at an elementary school, and she's frequently called upon to help kids with their worksheets. One day a couple of months ago, she was helping with a worksheet that required the child to circle all 10 of the words that had the long /e/ sound (as in "bee"). She and her charge could find only 9. She asked the other adults in the special ed room, none of whom could identify the 10th word with the ee sound. Finally they consulted the answer key, which listed "Monday" as the 10th qualifying word. None of the teachers had ever heard this word pronounced "Muhn'-dee" before (they have only "Muhn'-day" in their idiolects, as do I), so they looked it up in the dictionary (I forget which one), and lo and behold, "Muhn'-dee" was the first pronunciation listed.

So my question is: are people here familiar with that pronunciation of the last syllable of days of the week? Is it a regional thing? My wife and I are Californians, the rest of the teachers there that day were native Connecticutians.

kenB -- ??? Never heard it, and I have lived in all sorts of places. I have heard it pronounced with a short, unstressed /i/ at the end (emphasis on the first syllable, second a sort of 'ih' afterthought -- but never with a long eee.

But what I came here to say was: Seb: go into your TPM cafe preferences (if you have an account), click 'comments', and select something other than 'sort by rating'. Do not forget to click 'save preferences' afterwards -- I did.

I've heard the "ee" variation on the days of the week and related -y ending words before, and I'm certain it is in fact regional. Whence I could not say.

KenB,

Monday?

Can't trust that day.

Finally they consulted the answer key, which listed "Monday" as the 10th qualifying word. None of the teachers had ever heard this word pronounced "Muhn'-dee" before...

I'd be willing to bet they're counting the end of the diphthong "ay" which -- as any good chorister will tell you -- is actually an a-vowel *curses lack of IPA* followed by a rapid /e/. [If you do the word really slowly you'll notice the "a" lengthening into the /e/ just before end of the word because the mouth closes and the tongue rises.] English doesn't actually have the pure "a" of Monda-, to the best of my knowledge, so we don't really notice it in everyday life.

Here is a dialect map of the locations of speakers who say day vs. dee

I think that the ay-ee variation is from Southern England. Two possible causes are 1)the word "day", in OE, had a yogh at the end (In German, it is 'tag' and in some dialects, the final is a fricative rather than a stop). This was rendered as a -y in day, but as a -gh in words like night.
The second possible cause is that in Celtic languages, day is pronounced with [i:] (cf. Welsh dydd) I think that the non-standard pronunciation of day in the US may be related to the spread of Cornish immigrants. Anarch is right that the sounds are not as different as we think they are, and he is right to curse the absence of IPA (though I'm sure it is possible as comments seem to be unicode compliant)

Hmmm... IPA symbols, let's see: schwa ə, voiceless n n̥

Well, it works in my browser... as usual, YMMV

Hmmmm, the schwa comes out ok, but the voiceless n diacritic (which is a small round circle underneath the symbol) doesn't.
Bizarrely enough, only about 10 or so of the diacritic marks don't come through, but the others come out fine.

Never heard it, and I have lived in all sorts of places.

I knew quite a few people in Texas that used that pronunciation. Also, family legend had it that my mother's ancestors were renamed "Mundy" because they landed at Ellis Island on a Monday. Details are garbled, but they certainly did have a name that becan with "Mc" up until then.

Thanks much for the dialect map, LJ (and thanks to everyone else for their contributions as well). Interesting that a pronunciation that's so much in the minority is seen as a standard by more than one dictionary.

Here is a dialect map of the locations of speakers who say day vs. dee

Ah, I love those maps. Thanks for reminding me.

I think that the ay-ee variation is from Southern England.

If you're referring to the diphthong that I was talking about, it's a feature of basically every major Anglophone English dialect (i.e. the US, Canada, Britain, Australia; I don't know about the emerging Asian dialects, never having studied them seriously) in words like, e.g., "day". The dialectal distinction between "Mundy" [i:] and "Mon-day" [e:] strikes me as a separate one; that is, do you pronounce the "day" in Monday as a distinct lexeme (? it's been a while) or more as an adjectival modifier?

OTOH, though, I would believe that the "Mundy" pronunciation is a) an older pronunciation (e.g. "Maundy") that b) survives primarily in certain English dialects (e.g. Yorkshire), but I think that's a more general vowel transition than merely Monday -> Mundy. We'd have to do a much larger experiment to see that, though.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad