Indisposed

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5 comments on this post.
  1. CMW:

    My impression was exactly the same as yours, used it last weekend in a text message with the intent of implying “tied up elsewhere”, I suppose I remember my father using it this way.
    The recipient assumed I was ill, and I was surprised to learn the actual definition.
    Perhaps we are just decades ahead of our time.

  2. David:

    Sorry, but I am old enough to know the definition has always been sick or ill (“slightly ill” is the definition per my 1966 edition dictionary), but the word has been misused for just as long by people trying to appear more educated than they apparently were.

  3. Cam:

    I had assumed that people were confusing ‘indisposed’ with ‘otherwise disposed’, although I am now doubting my understanding of the latter. I thought that was the one that meant ‘busy’, in the sense of just plainly ‘doing something else’.

  4. Donna:

    Although David will probably never see this, I find his haughty comment a bit offensive, as “indisposed” has not always meant “slightly unwell”, as the word detective clearly states. Even now, it also means “unwilling”. Apparently his education ended in 1966, and he is not open to the inevitable evolution of our language. I believe people have simply misunderstood its use and have not misused it in an effort to sound more educated than they are, as David suggests.

    I also misunderstood “indisposed” to mean busy with something we don’t talk about in polite conversation, such as using the restroom. I have always heard it used in the phrase “indisposed at the moment” and always in response to a person who has called asking to speak to someone on the phone or who has made an unexpected visit to someone’s home. In this context, I don’t feel that many other people’s and my own conclusion is illogical. As others have said, perhaps this meaning will become accepted in the future.

  5. SSG:

    The only constant in any language is change, be it morphological, phonological, semantic, or syntactic. In any language, and specifically in English, semantics (the meaning of words) are constantly evolving such that a word takes on a new or different meaning than originally conceived. Sometimes the new meaning is related to or derived from the word’s pre-existing meaning(s); other times, the relationship is far more tenuous. Nonetheless, semantic changes become accepted with increased usage and the passage of time.

    The rules of language, including the meanings ascribed to its words, are not prescriptive (i.e., how language must be used) so much as they are descriptive (how language is actually being used). The word “gay” is but one illustrative example. In any case, from the perspective of linguistics and dictionary publishers, it’s not about the “correct” definition of a word, but about how a word is being used and commonly understood by the native/fluent speakers of that language. If it were about “correct” vs. “incorrect” definitions, dictionaries would never need to publish updated editions. But perhaps that’s why you still refer to your 1966 edition dictionary 47 years later. So in your eyes, I suppose calling my newfangled computer accessory a “mouse” would be to misuse a word that, in your 1966 dictionary, is probably only defined to mean a rodent. But in this case, it’s not that my usage is wrong, but rather that your dictionary’s definition of the word fails to reflect modern usage.

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