Disinterested or uninterested? How long we should cling to a word’s original meaning. – By Ben Yagoda – Slate Magazine.

OK I know I wrote somewhat abortively about this a while ago, but the above article has stirred my wrath (see here for explanation of what stirs my wrath). My wrath is probably needless because it’s written from an American perspective and even gives anglophilia as a reason for people using what it calls archaisms, but, whatever. Since I live here now, it’s good to know that:

Some people—often children of English teachers or Anglophiles—proudly wear their knowledge on their sleeve, and adopt hypercorrect linguistic behavior. Take Ray Magliozzi, the less laughter-prone of NPR’s Car Talk guys, who turns his sentences into pretzels so as to avoid ending them with prepositions: a “rule” that has been out of favor for roughly half a century. (Ray consequently favors the phrase “with which.”) I actually heard him use the word “shall” on last week’s show. A subclass of this group favors ur-renditions of common expressions. Adopting the diction of George Gissing or Walter Pater, they will choose stamping(instead of stomping) grounds, champing (instead of chomping) at the bit, pompons (instead of pompoms), or titbits (instead of tidbits).* Such archaism seems designed to attract attention, and nothing more.

So use of “stamping” marks you out as hypercorrect in your language use? OK. Far as I know it’s just a regular word. Also, there are plenty of circumstances in which use of “with which” is perfectly fine, or aren’t there? And what about “shall?”

The writer has concocted a clever (if hyper-subjective) method for distinguishing between useful archaisms and those that should be ditched, and made a table of them at the bottom of the article. I wasn’t even aware of some of the “new” definitions that he mentions: apparently in America, “hoi polloi” is often used to refer to fancy, as opposed to common, people, and “nonplussed” can mean unfazed or nonchalant instead of perplexed.

In some cases I think it’s quite handy to have coexisting definitions: I like the fit of “momentarily” with both “for a moment” and “in a moment.” But I still find the use of “disinterested” to mean “uninterested” horribly grating.

Advertisements