Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation

The English language is a wondrous thing, evolving more quickly all the time. Ammon Shea, author of Bad English and Reading the OED, knows more than most about “sins of grammar” and “words that are not words.” Here are just a few surprising tidbits he shares about our perplexing language, courtesy of Bad English.

You’ve heard it before and you’ve probably wondered if it’s actually a real word or not. While great minds like Ezra Pound and G.K. Chesterton use the word with no qualms, others will still say you’re using a word that isn’t a word. And sorry to disappoint either side, but the truth is, there is no “correct” form so let the fight rage on as to whether you’re stupider or more stupid, because it doesn’t look like it will end anytime soon.

Surprisingly, this abbreviation did not originate in the early 2000s. Its first recorded use is in 1917 in a letter from an admiral to Winston Churchill: “I hear that new order of Knighthood in on the tapis—O.M.G.—Shower it on the Admiralty!” You tell ‘em John Arbuthnot Fisher.

Don’t they mean the same thing? Apparently not. In modern days, disinterested means “impartial,” while uninterested means “unconcerned with.” But here’s the twist: in their earliest uses of these words, disinterested means “without interest” and uninterested means “lacking bias.” Guess the definitions just switched…that happens sometimes in language.

The more you know!

Check out Shea’s book to find out what other words you’ve probably been misinterpreting!