Bemused Again

In my post about “bemused,” Kevin left a comment that made me wonder about the word, and how the abridged MW had a definition that the unabridged MW didn’t.

I wrote to MW (of course?) and their response more or less confirms what I figured:

Sense 3 of bemused in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary is a recent addition. It did not appear in the Collegiate until the publication of the Eleventh Edition (2003). Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (the print source for the online Unabridged Dictionary) was published in 1961. The Third has received some Addenda updates since that time, but has not received such an update since the publication Eleventh Edition of the Collegiate and does not yet reflect this newer usage of bemused.

It is difficult to tell when this particular usage of bemused entered the language. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage notes that grammarians were warning against the use of bemuse as a synonym of amuse in the 1970s and early 1980s. This same book provides citations dating back to the 1950s in which bemuse may be used in this sense, but the citations are ambiguous and it is difficult to determine if the usage reflects this newer definition of the word.

It is not unusual to find the older senses of the word used in a humorous or hyperbolic manner which is often difficult to distinguish from the newer sense denoting “wry amusement.” Indeed, it is possible that it is precisely such usage, along with the word’s etymological connection to amuse, that have led to the increasing popularity of this newer sense.


6 Responses to “Bemused Again”

  1. October 22, 2007 at 9:26 am #

    Sorry I ruined your word.

  2. October 22, 2007 at 7:36 pm #

    Hey, you made me WONDER about a word. I love that!

  3. October 23, 2007 at 8:09 am #

    Well, that’s good and all, but I’m also one of the guys that’s been using it in the incorrect way, such that now the dictionaries are changing to include my definition. I’m like those people that said “ain’t” so much that they finally put it in the dictionary and ticked off all the English teachers.

    I’m a bad man.

  4. October 24, 2007 at 8:13 am #

    I like “ain’t.” I use it sometimes, because it carries meaning beyond “isn’t.” (Of course, the meaning it carries is due to it’s being a rogue word. So I use it to show informality.)

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard you use ain’t, so I’m guessing either your “ain’t” days are over, or you use it just like I do.

    As far as bemuse, I don’t really have a problem with it changing. After all, we already have puzzled and confused, so it’s not as though we’re losing anything.

    If we could actually have a word that meant “a mixture of puzzlement and amusement,” well, that would ROCK. But I think it’s just gonna mean amusement in the end.

    Anyway, I’m sure you’re a bad man in many ways, so I won’t try to convince you otherwise. Just vote Democrat in the coming election to repent. 😉

  5. November 15, 2007 at 12:36 pm #

    Bemused made this list, as did irregardless:

    Do you like my high-brow sources?


  1. Bemused and Presume | Save the Semicolon - October 28, 2010

    […] UPDATE: I wrote to Merriam-Webster and got an answer. […]

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