Disinterested vs. uninterested and the blurred lines of neutrality

Paragraph that includes the phrase "downright disinterested."

“Disinterested” and “uninterested” have swapped meanings through the centuries.

Most of us who pay close attention to language today see a clear distinction, though:

“Disinterested” means impartial or unbiased.

“Uninterested” means indifferent or unconcerned.

So saying that someone is “downright disinterested” is akin to saying the person is “extremely neutral.”

Makes your head hurt, doesn’t it?

The Oxford English Dictionary says the substitution of “disinterested” for “uninterested” is “increasingly common in informal use.” Dictionary.com even argues that the use of “disinterested” to mean “not interested” is “almost always clear from the context.”

I disagree. I’d even suggest that misuse of the words can be misleading, if not libelous.

Imagine referring to a referee as uninterested in a game, or to a judge or a mediator as having no interest in a case.

I’ll take the disinterested (impartial) judge over the uninterested (not interested) judge any day.

One more thing:

The editorial and advertising sides of publications usually have little contact. That’s generally good, although it can produce comic results, as in the juxtaposition of the story where I found the “downright disinterested” passage, and the accompanying ad.

It seems to suggest that if Jann Wenner is uninterested in the iPad, he should try a Galaxy Tab.

Dis it if you like, but I find it interesting.


Online page with headline about Rolling Stone founder not interested in tablets, along side an ad for tablets.

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