Should you ask a disinterested friend for an opinion?

Today’s topic is another “by request,” this time from an author whose work I’ve edited. She wants a post about the difference between “disinterested” and “uninterested.” I hear and obey. (This time, anyway.)

First let’s look at the prefixes. Both ultimately come from Latin. Dis- means “apart, away, asunder” and has “a privative, negative, or reversing force” on the words to which it is affixed. (You do remember, don’t you, that prefixes and suffixes are collectively referred to as “affixes,” right? Of course right.) Un- means “not.” That’s all. Just “not.”

Disinterested means having no interest in something in the sense of being unbiased, impartial (“apart from interest”). Judges are supposed to remain disinterested in the cases on which they are called to rule. They need to be on the outside, in order to make the kinds of decisions required by their position. I don’t think we can call them uninterested, though, because . . .

Uninterested means indifferent, not caring about or being bored by a subject (“not interested”). Think of being talked into going to an event about which you have no interest whatsoever (whether it’s the opera or a football game doesn’t matter). You’re uninterested in it, and aren’t likely to have a very good time.

An enlightening discussion of these two words and their current common usage is here. I’m sorry to tell you that the Cliff Notes version is: “Disinterested” is overtaking “uninterested.” I’m very unhappy about that; here’s another pair of words with a shade of difference in meaning that I think is worth preserving. I’ll spare you all my rant on the down-side of a living language and just say this is part and parcel of it — the loss of useful distinctions thanks to poor education and (yes, I’m going there) uninterest (not disinterest!) in the outcomes.

Here is another excellent breakdown (and I’ll say, I wrote my bit before I read this, so there).

And the answer to the title question? Yes, if you want an unbiased opinion from someone who doesn’t have a stake in the answer.

He may not have a stake, but he's got a gavel and he knows how to use it.
He may not have a stake, but he’s got a gavel and he knows how to use it.