Disinterested Media?

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Michelle Malkin is on C-SPAN's Washington Journal right now, and she just contradicted herself unintentionally. I'm not sure why, but in the last few weeks I've seen a much higher concentration of misuses of the term 'disinterested' to mean uninterested, whereas it really means not biased. Her whole point was to say that the major media outlets went way out of their way to focus on every little detail of Bush's National Guard service only to discover that there was no story there, while they've been dragged kicking and screaming even to mention all the stuff now with Kerry's Vietnam service, an issue he himself has placed so prominently in his campaign as to invite it. That's pure bias. Then why does she go and say that the major media outlets are disinterested, which means they're not biased? She's intelligent enough that I'd expect her to know the difference between being disinterested and uninterested. This isn't exactly a picky point of language. Her actual statement contradicted her main point. Aside from bad arguments for conclusions I agree with and unfair presentations of views I have sympathy with, there isn't much that a pundit can do to annoy me besides mangling the English language so much that the very argument they're making gets undermined. This particular mistake has been so common recently that it seems as if there's a major movement to annoy me.

2 Comments

To be fair to Malkin, here's the definition Merriam-Webster's online dictionary gives for "disinterested":

1 a : not having the mind or feelings engaged : not interested
b : no longer interested

2 : free from selfish motive or interest : UNBIASED

It actually has a little article on the uses of the word, and notes: "Still, use of senses 1a and 1b will incur the disapproval of some who may not fully appreciate the history of this word or the subtleties of its present use."

That may be. I'm aware that there are quite a few words that language pundits complain about everyone misusing that turn out to be more complicated, e.g. the older meaning is the one pundits complain about and the newer meaning the one they treat as correct. Maybe that's so here. I don't remember ever seeing this on any such lists, and I did a search of Language Log to see if they have discussed this word, and they haven't. This is a standard example from English classes in high school and SAT and GRE prep classes/books. I've seen it about as frequently as nauseated/nauseous, which if you don't know about it is actually very funny -- people who say they're nauseous usually mean that they're nauseated but according to the language pundits are actually saying that they cause nausea in other people, not that they feel nauseated. My English teacher in high school used to respond sarcastically when anyone said "I'm nauseous". He'd say, "You sure are" and then laugh without explaining why he thought it was funny.

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