Tuesday, December 15, 2015


[Mini Puzzle, The New York Times, December 15, 2015.]

It’s difficult to say that this clue-and-answer pairing is plainly wrong. Merriam-Webster’s discussion of disinterested notes that the word was first used to mean “not having the mind or feelings engaged, not interested” and that this meaning reappeared in the early twentieth century:

The revival has since been under frequent attack as an illiteracy and a blurring or loss of a useful distinction. Actual usage shows otherwise.
Garner’s Modern American Usage thinks a distinction between uninterested and disinterested is
still best recognized and followed because disinterested captures a nuance that no other word quite does. . . .

A disinterested observer is not merely “impartial” but has nothing to gain from taking a stand on the issue in question.
I like (and honor) the distinction. If disinterested describes an observer with nothing to gain, why use the word in place of a word that has a much wider application?

But there’s a Higher Authority that has a bearing on this clue-and-answer. “The New York Times” Manual of Style and Usage (2015) distinguishes between disinterested and uninterested: “Disinterested means unbiased or impartial; uninterested means bored or indifferent.”

So by Times standards, clueing BORED with disinterested is

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