Disabuse

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Disabuse

Post by Archived Topic » Wed Jan 02, 2002 11:20 pm

‘Disabuse’ is a word that I have never used, but have heard, and for which I don’t have a real good feel. On CNN this morning Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security (why do I think George Orwell and ‘1984’ – I guess I’ll never get used to these kinds of words) said the following:

“I don’t want anyone to disabuse themselves of the seriousness of this information [[al Qaeda stuff]] simply because there are some reports that much of it is dated – it might be two or three years old.”

DISABUSE transitive verb. To free from abuse, error, mistake, falsehood or misconception; to free (a person) from fallacy or deception or error; to set free from mistakes (as in reasoning or judgment); undeceive, set right. [American Heritage Dictionary, Random House and Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged (M-W)

<“I must disabuse you of your feelings of grandeur.”> American Heritage Dictionary

<“Disabused us of the old belief that the universe revolved about the home of man”— P. E. More> (M-W)

<”He couldn't however disabuse his mind of the idea.” —F. M. Ford> (M-W)
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Something, it seems to me, is not kosher in the Ridge statement. ‘To disabuse oneself of the seriousness of this information would then mean, according to the above definitions, to free oneself of the misconception of the seriousness of this information. Isn’t this saying just the opposite of what he obviously is trying to convey? Doesn’t this say that ‘the seriousness of the information’ is a misconception that you want to free yourself from? If you look at he second M-W quote above and follow the same pattern you get “Disabused (us) of old belief (a falsehood) —> “Disabuse (themselves) of the seriousness of the information (a falsehood)”

Am I wrong, or does did Tom Ridge actually say the opposite of what he meant to say?
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Ken G – August 3, 2004

Submitted by Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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Disabuse

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Jan 02, 2002 11:34 pm

Ken, you are quite right. Ridge is misusing 'disabuse' to mean 'disregard', 'ignore' or 'mislead [themselves]' so that his sentence comes to imply the opposite of what I assume he intended.

The most common construction I have encountered involving 'disabuse' is that of ridding someone of an idea or impression, e.g. "Let me disabuse you straightaway of the notion that just because you have been promoted, you can now do what you like in your job".

However, one might well expect someone who is (inter alia) in charge of a department of official propaganda to trip themselves up on their own abuse of language from time to time. I call it teamwork.
Reply from Erik Kowal ( - England)
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Disabuse

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Jan 02, 2002 11:49 pm

Erik, Thanks. We’re in good company. I dropped Bill Walsh (copy chief of the national news at the Washington Post) a note this morning on this issue and here is his reply:

I think Ridge did misuse the word. You could disabuse yourself of the seriousness of the information only if the seriousness were a false notion.

-- Bill
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The interesting thing is Ridge was reading from a prepared speech, so this was not an off-the-cuff slip – he had given his words some thought. I suppose English isn’t as important to some people as others, and I guess the Bush team acts as a nucular family! (<:)

P.S. I highly recommend linguist Geoffrey Nunberg’s new book ‘Going Nucular’ (May 2004) to anyone interested in how modern English words, phrases (e.g. terrorism, blog, etc.), and styles in politics, the news media, business, etc. evolved into what they are today. It’s a collection of his news pieces from his commentaries on NPR’s ‘Fresh Air,’ as was his earlier collection ‘The Way We Talk Now,’ which I also recommend. Although he is an ardent descriptivist and no friend of the ‘language police’ – he definitely believes in the evolution of usages, especially when they fulfill a need – I don’t think he would have been thrilled with Tom Ridge’s abuse of 'disabuse.'

Ken – August 3, 2004

Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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Disabuse

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Jan 03, 2002 12:03 am

You don't think there's a scriptwriter with a different agenda?
I love Dogbert's "How may I abuse you?"
Reply from Edwin Ashworth (Oldham - England)
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