Language Quiz

1. If you were on trial for murder, would you rather the judge were:

A. Uninterested

B. Disinterested

2. If you were giving a speech and you saw most of your audience yawning or nodding off or staring at their smart phones, would you conclude your audience was:

A. Uninterested

B. Disinterested

The answer to Question 1 is B, Disinterested. The answer to Question 1 is A, Uninterested.

Here’s why:

Disinterested means  unbiased, unprejudiced, impartial, neutralnonpartisan. All qualities you would want in a judge trying your case. 

Uninterested means unconcerned, bored, distant, uninvolved, aloof. Exactly what you would not want in the audience to your speech.

Here’s the problem:

Increasingly, Disinterested has overtaken Uninterested as the universal word for unconcerned, bored, aloof, and for unbiased, unprejudiced, impartial, as in “He was disinterested in the magazine article.” In this example, it’s possible the person was taking a neutral, impartial stance on the magazine article, but it’s much more probable he was just bored by it.

Some dictionaries have given up and are now accepting disinterest and uninterest as meaning the same. Do not follow their lead! Stand up for precision in using the two words. Use Disinterested when you’re standing before a judge. Use Uninterested when you’re standing in front of a bored audience.

You’ll be a language pro amidst rank amateurs.

He goes, I’m like, Well I mean

Today’s post is about language. I’m usually a pretty mellow person, but when it comes to language use I’m a curmudgeon.  Like all people growing up, I was surrounded by the slang of my generation, and much of that slang I liked and used. For instance, you’ll still hear me saying “Far Out!” when I really like something.

Slang is creative. Slang is imaginative. Slang is playful. I’m all for that. One of my favorite epithets is “God’s teeth!”, introduced to me in a novel I read in graduate school. I think it was Kingsley Amos’ Lucky Jim, but I’m not sure. The origin of the phrase is apparently Elizabethan.

What always gets my dander up and awakens my inner curmudgeon is hearing “I’m like” and “he’s like” (which seems to have replaced “I go” and “he goes”) for “I said” and “he said”.  It started as teenspeak, and now it seems damn near universal as those teens have grown up. To me it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard.

My latest outrage is hearing professional journalists and commentators on news talk shows start their comments with “I mean,” or sometimes “Well, I mean” or “Yeah, I mean”. Where the hell does that come from? More teenspeak? These are professionals  who ought to know better. God’s Teeth!

Thank you for reading my blog.

Marjorie Beck

Marjorie Beck