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Being Picky with Words [Mar. 17th, 2005|12:11 am]
I'm given to understand that English has a bigger vocabulary than most (all?) other languages. This means that English has high descriptive granularity; there are lots of words that differ in meaning by fine shades. I like that, because I like to be able to use precise terminology when it's available. (This is a general trait of geeks, according to The Jargon Files Appendix, which is scarily accurate.)

Anyway, there are a number of words that, in common usage (even in dictionaries), are starting to lose their precise meanings, which would be a shame. Here's the ones I can think of at the moment.

uninterested vs disinterested
"Uninterested" means that I don't care; "disinterested" means that I don't have any stake in the question and am a neutral party.

jealousy vs envy
"Envy" means that you have something that I wish I had; "jealousy" means that you've got something that I think rightly belongs to me, or that I'm intolerant of rivalry with regard to that thing.

nausea vs nauseous
"Nausea" (noun) is a feeling of queasiness; "nauseous" (adjective) is something nausea-inducing.

So the question is: are these important distinctions of meaning that it's valuable to preserve? Are there others we should work on maintaining?

Or is it just obnoxious hypercorrectness and linguistic snobbery?

[User Picture]From: vyrin
2005-03-17 12:59 am (UTC)
I'd say that the difference between Envy and Jealousy is quite important, since Envy is a much more stable emotion compared with Jealousy (especially in relationships) and has very different moral and ethical connotations. In fact, if we could somehow trick our highly evolved mammalian brains into only feeling Envy and never Jealousy then I think we would be much more happy and functional, both as individuals and as a society.
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