A small rant

Sorry, people, but I had to write something, having read no less than three posts today by writers who didn’t know the difference between ‘uninterested’ and ‘disinterested’. You can see how that would rankle.

The majority of the time, you probably want ‘uninterested’. That means not paying attention to something because you don’t find it stimulating enough. ‘Disinterested’, on the other hand, means ‘impartial’: having, say, no financial interest in the outcome of a deal. (For anyone even more pedantic than me, I realise that this distinction only became clear in the early 18th century. But I think that should have given most bloggers enough time to catch on by now.)

Anyway, it’s very easy: all you need to do is to remember the phrase my English teacher told me, many moons ago… Are you ready?

“A good judge is disinterested.”

There. Isn’t that easy? Thank you for your attention, everyone. Now I can go to bed with a weight off my mind.

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My sense is that the distinction between the two words isn’t so clear cut, see the usage note at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/disinterested. I guess I’m not terribly inclined to save words from extinction, and thus am one of the folks to advocate for using either uninterested or impartial (and am also in favor of flammable over inflammable). To be sure, my opinions are likely heavily influenced by my living in the states.

Hi David –

Yes, as you suggest, American usage has more flexibility on this one – I think the distinction is more clear-cut over here. There is often a difference when it comes to changes that have occurred or conventions that have become established in the last few centuries, because, of course, the language started to split at the start of the 19th century. Nobody here would say ‘gotten’ now, and would think it very American, but it was, I believe, in common usage here before The Great Divide 🙂

It’s usually we Brits who are more pedantic, but on some issues there are stronger conventions in the States: I tend to be more careful about ‘which’ and ‘that’ when writing for an American audience, for example — the house that belonged to my aunt vs. the house which belonged to my aunt — but they’re pretty interchangeable over here… at least now!


All lawyers are taught this distinction, right at the beginning of their legal education… and it matters.

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