Jun 08 2009

A disinterested post without judgement

by at 6:21 pm

And now, a short post in which I self-righteously tell people to stop being self-righteous.

Did you know that disinterested doesn’t mean the same thing as uninterested? You did? That’s funny, because (via John Hodgman) disinterested meant uninterested first, which is to say, you and I, and all those other know-it-alls, should stop correcting people.

I’m collecting examples of this phenomenon, and also trying to figure out if there’s a term for it. Basically, it’s characterized by common things that people who consider themselves “in the know” might enjoy pointing out to you. But they’re not actually true. There’s an element of urban legend to them, and an element of grammar/spelling, but maybe that’s just the examples I can think of off the top of my head:

  • The term “jimmies” (for sprinkles) isn’t actually racist.
  • Judgment can be spelled with an ‘e’—judgement is in the dictionary!
  • Existent and fluctuant are real words in English. (Actually, that probably never comes up for other people but a few months ago I was working with a bilingual English/French speaker on a document in English and I tried to convince him that this was creeping Euro-English. Woops!)
  • …shoot, I thought I had some more examples.

Help me out here, folks.

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3 responses so far

3 Responses to “A disinterested post without judgement”

  1. joelon 08 Jun 2009 at 7:59 pm

    Confused language “enforcers” are, sadly, running rampant thanks to two consequences of the internet: the great increase in the use of the written word and the great increase in the ability to comment publicly on that use. It’s not language that makes these people stupid, though. They are just generally stupid. Without language, they would find something else to loudly and misguidedly complain about. (Please note the language “sins” in that last sentence.)

    Really, though, I’m not sure it matters that these enforcers are wrong about the history of disinterested vs. uninterested. What matters is how those words are used and understood today. I could go on and on about these issues, but a group of linguistics profs already have: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/

  2. Judy (aka Seth's mom)on 08 Jun 2009 at 11:25 pm

    Jeff Nunberg, a linguist, talks about this issue on Fresh Air from June 3, 2009–http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104869163

    About 17 minutes into the interview, he says that everyone has had “the English teacher who, with withering sarcasm dismisses all the errors and grammatical solipsisms in her students’ papers.” He goes on to recommend that we get past that experience and get a life, if our crowning accomplishment is to use apostrophes correctly and lord that over other people.

    Is that what you are talking about, Seth?

  3. Alexon 09 Jun 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Embiggens is (despite Chrome’s insistence otherwise) is really a word, and was not invented by the Simpsons.

    “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.”

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