Writing for Business

Nov 2 2012   12:53PM GMT

Disinterested or uninterested?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
According to some critics, Google is _________ in fixing YouTube flaws.
a. uninterested
b. disinterested

Answer: a.

The first meaning of uninterested is lacking interest; the first meaning of disinterested is impartial or unbiased. If you were framed for a crime, you would want a disinterested jury that would weigh the facts impartially — definitely not an uninterested one that might not pay much attention to the evidence.

Some dictionaries include the meaning of lacking interest for disinterested. In fact, their meanings have shifted back and forth over the last couple of centuries. However, when a distinction can be made that clarifies meaning, it’s usually better to go with that choice.

Nevertheless, a quick Google finds a lot of examples of people using “disinterested” to mean “uninterested.” There are those who fear that the distinction between the two words is disappearing. 

On Motivated Grammar, Gabe Doyle (@MGrammar) did some research into that question. Here’s how he describes the current situation:

 Uninterested is now restricted to an “unconcerned” meaning. Disinterested covers impartiality, but it also can take the “uninterested” meaning, often indicating specifically that interest has been lost. Because many people object to this sense of disinterested, you may want to avoid it if you’re uninterested in a fight. Will the distinction ever fully emerge, and the overlap be lost? Would that this desk were a time desk…

Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

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