You know a word’s in trouble when an otherwise fairly erudite and intelligent writer uses it wrongly, for today this canard cropped up in my daily readings from Richard Rohr, and I put my head in my hands and groaned. It seems almost everyone now uses disinterested to mean bored or uninterested, so that the original sense of the word as defined here – not having a vested interest, being impartial or above debate – is lost. What’s more no-one seems to mind. Not wanting to look like frowsty old professors or grizzled grammar geeks, everyone stands by and allows poor old disinterested to be hacked to pieces. Well, not on this blog! We stand for the fearless protection of words! We will not allow people to tell us they’re ‘good’ when actually they’re ‘fine’ – we will not allow them to say ‘disinterested’ when they mean ‘uninterested’!
But in the end all this is just Canute holding back the tide (although supposedly he did this to demonstrate his lack of power). It’s the Academie Francaise trying to stem the flood of English words by issuing French alternatives and it is doomed. In the end what decides the meaning of words is general usage, and if everyone chooses to redefine disinterested – as I think they already have – as uninterested then that is what it now means.
Thankfully though, Peterborough has not been redefined as Brexit city; Labour won by six hundred or so votes. Phew!