Shades of meaning

1. If you are bemused by the rush of everyday life, does that mean you are amused by it?

2. If you are loyal and dependable, are you stanch or staunch?

3. If someone sees a situation in a scornful or bitter way, is his outlook sardonic or sarcastic?

4. Should a judge be uninterested or disinterested in a case?

5. Does sunshine whiten, bleach, or blanch clothes?


1. Not necessarily. "To amuse" means to make someone laugh or smile. If you are bemused, however, you are confused, bewildered, or lost in thought, as when daydreaming. Modern life may cause you to feel somewhat muddled, but you may not be amused by it.

2. Staunch. A staunch friend or team member is true, steady, and unwavering. The word is also applied to boats: "A staunch craft" means one that that is sound, seaworthy. "Stanch" is a verb meaning "to stop or check" the flow of tears, funds, etc.

3. Sardonic. Both words mean scornful and bitter. But "sarcastic" implies contempt or disapproval in a way to hurt someone's feelings. It is more personal and cutting. "The teacher's sarcastic comments discouraged the student." "Sardonic" is more cold and aloof and is not directed at anyone in particular. It does imply superiority and self-righteousness, though. "Upon hearing the economic report, the executive cast a sardonic smile."

4. "Disinterested," meaning impartial and not influenced by personal interest or advantage. "Uninterested" suggests having no concern about a matter or simply being bored. Even if the judge is bored, we hope he's disinterested, as well.

5. The sun bleaches (or fades) the color from clothes. Bleaching can also take place with chemicals. "To whiten" means to make white or whiter, and it can involve applying a substance on a surface, like paint. "To blanch" can mean to become pale from fear or hunger. Vegetables such as endive and asparagus are blanched as they grow by heaping soil around them. ("To blanch" veggies can also mean to scald them quickly in boiling water.)

SOURCES: The Dictionary of Confusable Words, by Laurence Urdang; The World Book Dictionary;

The Random House Dictionary of the English Language.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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