Disinterested

I must have missed the memo. Disinterested has merged into uninterested. Disinterested used to mean you mean impartial; now it means not interested. Whereas uninterested means not interested in a topic.

I am not strictly a prescriptivist when it comes to language, but it does provide a certain level of efficiency in communication. Descriptively, one needs to interpret conversation through some local lens, but one can’t persist a description for too long because it might have drifted the next time you try to apply it. Imagine having to negotiate meaning and intent every time we engage in communication.

Uninterested means not interested in a topic.

A car was a vehicle last week, but those are now called ABC because this week car means XYZ—only to have to reevaluate this shared meaning in the next contextual engagement.

Disinterested used to mean not being interested in the outcome.

Disinterested used to mean not being interested in the outcome. But that’s changed. It seems that now, in order to provide clarity of communication, we need to use the word impartial so as not to introduce the ambiguity now embedded in disinterested.

Recently, I was speaking with a well-educated linguaphile, and I mentioned that I was looking for a disinterested person to mediate a debate. This man is in his eighties, yet he immediately interpreted disinterested as uninterested. When I shared my understanding of the meaning, he conveyed that he was unfamiliar with that parsing. This came as a surprise to me because he is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst—quite the word wordsmith in a Jungian sort of way. I presumed that he would have understood the distinction and nuance in the interpretation. Once I clarified, he adopted my meaning—at least within the scope of our conversation. This said, I might drop disinterested from my vocabulary altogether. I’ll retain uninterested in the way a always have, and I’ll employ impartial where I would have heretofore employed disinterested.

Did you get this memo? Do you use disinterested and uninterested as close synonyms or do you retain the nuance?

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