March 26, 2009

Weekly Language Usage Tips: uninterested or disinterested, infer or imply

Posted in infer or imply, uninterested or disinterested at 8:32 am by dlseltzer

More on pretentious writing:

Curt reminded me of a phrase that I can’t believe I forgot because I find myself correcting it so often.

In order to should always be replaced by to.

Simpler, more straightforward, better.

Curt also pointed put that in conjunction with can usually be replaced with with . However, he notes, ”I think there are valid uses for in conjunction with, even though I can’t think of one.”

Can anyone think of an instance where in conjunction with is a better (or more necessary) choice than with?

David, from UCLA, made a valid point about some pretentious words:

In health services research, efficacious and effectiveness have different and specific meanings. A drug or technique that has been proven worthwhile in a clinical trial is efficacious. That same drug, when shown to perform the same way when used in the community (with docs who may or may not be as good as the trial docs, in patients who may be different than the study patients) is said to be effective. The distinction is not trivial; there are lots of drugs and procedures that are efficacious but not effective.

Tip 1: Uninterested or disinterested

These two words are not synonyms; in fact, their meanings are quite distinct. Uninterested means not concerned, indifferent.

He ignored all of the data; he seemed uninterested in discovering the truth. (He didn’t care about discovering the truth.)

Disinterested means impartial, neutral, unbiased.

A disinterested reviewer is best able to provide a fair score on a grant proposal. (An impartial reviewer is best.)

The distinction may be clearer in the following sentence.

A good judge will be disinterested as to a trial’s outcome but not uninterested in the trial itself. (A good judge will be unbiased as to the outcome but not indifferent to the trial.)

There are a couple of problems associated with these words that we should be aware of in our writing. First, while most people use uninterested correctly, many used disinterested incorrectly; they use it to mean uninterested. Although this is incorrect, such use persists, so it is best not to use disinterested at all–especially since there are other, unambiguous words, that can replace it (e.g., impartial, neutral). Second, while indifferent is synonymous with uninterested, many people confuse it with disinterested, that is, having no opinion or preference. So, indifferent is also an ambiguous word that would best be avoided. Instead, use uninterested, not interested, or another more universally understood expression.

Tip 2: Imply or infer

Like the often confused words noted above, imply and infer are words that are sometimes used interchangeably. This is incorrect. Imply means to hint or state indirectly. Infer means to deduce or draw a conclusion. The speaker or writer (the sender of the information) implies. The reader or listener (the receiver of the information) infers.

Are you inferring that my lectures are boring? WRONG

Are you implying that my lectures are boring? RIGHT

When members of the audience started to stand, the guest lecturer implied it was time to wind up. WRONG

When members of the audience started to stand, the guest lecturer inferred it was time to wind up. RIGHT

Seems simple, right? Evidently not so for everyone:

From Mike Huckabee’s blog, Huck Pack:

Michael Steele’s Recent Comments
by Mike Huckabee (March 12, 2009)

… For Chairman Steele to even infer that taking a life is totally left up to the individual is not only a reversal of Republican policy and principle, but it’s a violation of the most basic of human rights–the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It would be inappropriate to comment on the politics in this forum (although I am sorely tempted), but the grammar is another story. Mr. Huckabee meant imply. Huckabee means For Chairman Steele to even hint at something… We, the listeners, can infer from his writing that Mr. Huckabee needs a refresher course in grammar.

1 Comment »

  1. lilaUting said,

    Very nice

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