Friday, November 14, 2008


All righty, I'm only going to say this once:

Bemused ≠ amused.

Bemuse means this:
1. To cause to be bewildered; confuse. See synonyms at daze.
2. To cause to be engrossed in thought.

See? It doesn't mean "To find things funny or droll." It rhymes with "confuse and it also means confuse? This should be so easy to remember. Maybe this will help: A Spanish translation of the verb is causar estupefacción . If you are bemused by something, it has stupefied you, not made you smile.

I've encountered several different people on the internet in the past week or so who have misused bemused, and it took every ounce of cool I have to stop my inner pedant from leaving them comments solely to correct their usage. Don't bemuse your readers or listeners by using bemused wrong, okay?> Thanks.

(Of course, 50 years from now, "to amuse" will surely find its way into the dictionary definitions of bemuse, just because so many people are using it that way. Sigh.)


S said...

I find your post highly amusing, but not the least bit bemusing. I admire your restraint in not posting comments to correct the misuse

Mary said...

(gulp, blush) I think I may have misused this. Fortunately for us all, I doubt I've ever used it in casual conversation, so have avoided annoying my companions.

Thanks for the lesson; I feel much smarter now.

Orange said...

Mary: *whispering* So have I. Never again!

Sara said...

Thank you, dear Orange, thank you. My inner pedant is pleased to know that she can continue to focus on the misuse of the word unique*, knowing that you have bemused covered.

Now if only somebody would handle Nu-cyu-lar before my head explodes.

(*If something is unique, then it is the only one like that in the world. If there are others, then it is not unique, even if the others are few. So "very unique" is never correct usage. It's either unique or not.)

Narya said...

I like to say that unique is like pregnant or dead--it's a binary condition.

Charlie said...

Also, an epitaph is not an epithet. I was very confused by this for a long time. But trust me, if the situation calls for a sincere epitaph, you wouldn't want to mistakenly deliver an epithet instead.

Orange said...

Charlie, did you know that epithet doesn't just mean a nasty name? It's true. Calling Abe Lincoln "The Great Emancipator" is using an epithet for him, but certainly not cussing him out.

Wow, I just Googled "racial epitaph" and got 1,500 hits. So wrong!

Laura said...

Doesn't "bemused" also have a positive connotation that links it with amusement, though? I've always thought of a "bemused smile" as the kind of smile you give someone when they have utterly dumbfounded you, but in an entertaining way. It's not that you don't find them amusing. You do. But they have *more* than amused you. So you get an extra phoneme!

Charlie said...

Orange, I did know that. I tried to work that into my comment, but it seemed to muddy up humorous angle I was going for so I finally gave up. So thanks for pointing it out.

Anonymous said...

William Shawn, the editor of the New Yorker for thirty-five years, used to patiently remind his writers that "there are no degrees of unique or degress of perfection."

I proof academic books as a (sort of) living, and I can't tell you how many people with PhDs describe the process of examining something in detail as "honing in." Not so, folks. It's "homing in," as in what pigeons do.


Anonymous said...

Ooops --- I just proofed my own comment and saw that I got "degrees" wrong the second time I used it in the Shawn quote. Sigh.


Feral Mom said...

Remember when I wrote that you were "prone to bemused smiles"? Now I wonder exactly what I meant by that.