Gray Matters


We’re delving into a few gray areas this week and next. In each sentence decide if only one word is correct, both are acceptable but one is preferable, or both are correct.

1. Arnold was (disinterested/uninterested) in my vacation advice.
2. Barb missed the performance because she was (nauseated/nauseous).
3. Cal (appraised/apprised) me of the reason for Diane’s sudden resignation.
4. Eugene and Franny have a (common/mutual) fondness for scary movies.

The verdicts

Although a lexicographer might shudder, let’s lump 1, 2, and 4 together and say that in each case using the “wrong” word will usually not get us in trouble, but if you are writing a stickler, you might want to devote a few seconds to using the preferred word. Number 3 has a clearcut answer. Here you go.

1. “Disinterested” has become acceptable as meaning “uninterested,” but “disinterest” is really impartiality (having no vested interest in an outcome, for example). So “uninterested” is preferred for Arnold’s attitude. (We would hope that a judge deciding our case is disinterested but interested!)

2. “Nauseous” is acceptable, but that word is used best in describing something that could make someone nauseated, like a nauseous fume. So “nauseated” is the better choice for how Barb felt.

3. To “appraise,” of course, is to evaluate, and to “apprise” is to inform. So we want “apprised me of the reason.”

4. “Mutual” is best reserved for something that is reciprocal. (For example: Despite their different styles, Sam and Sonya have always maintained mutual respect.) So it’s better to say that Eugene and Franny have a “common fondness for scary movies.”

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