SOMETHING BLUE, SOMETHING NEW.

A couple of words that surprised me today:
1) Via Jan Freeman’s latest post, an odd bit of obsolete slang: apparently, people used to say “to blue all his savings” and “I blued it all on booze” where we would say “to blow” and “I blew.” I asked Jan if there were etymologies that would indicate whether it was an independent verb, and she replied “Both Green and OED present ‘blue/blued/blued’ as a variation on the (already slang) ‘blow/blew/blown,’ which makes me think it was probably an intentional language joke that caught on for a while.”
2) Via Stan Carey’s latest post, a new sense of bemused that would have upset me were I not such a staunch descriptivist; as it is, I am merely bemused that it snuck up on me without my having the faintest idea that it was undergoing semantic development. To quote the AHD, Fifth Edition: “The word bemused is sometimes used to mean ‘amused, especially when finding something wryly funny,’ as in The stream of jokes from the comedian left the audience bemused, with some breaking out into guffaws.” Are you familiar with this sense? Do you use it yourself?

Comments

  1. John Emerson says:

    I don’t think that it’s a dialect form, just a one-time mistake, but I once heard a very rustic woman say “prefer” when she meant “refer”. I think that she was trying to spiff up her language because she was intimidate by my dad.
    Reminds me of bemused/amused is all.

  2. I’ve always thought of “bemused” primarily as a word that can easily be mixed up with “amused”.

  3. John Emerson says:

    Bemused is closely associated with “wry”, sort of like ham.

  4. I just learned where the word “jinx” comes from.

  5. John Emerson says:

    As I remember, David Brinkley was frequently bemused and wry. That may be the derivation of the association.

  6. That’s the primary definition of “bemuse” for me. I would say it means something like “almost amused”, in a “You expect me to laugh at that?” kind of way.

  7. This is actually what I thought the word meant for the longest time, or maybe a blend between the two, heavily weighted towards amused, a sort of goodnatured (mild) perplexity in reaction to someone’s antics or the state of the world, an attitude of amused, haughty detachment in the face of a misfortune or senselessness. Since it is often used semi-humorously (anyone who is actually confused usually just says so), I continued to misinterpret it for far longer than I should have. But I wouldn’t have used it as in the AHD’s example, because I thought it had a bit of a condescending character to it. Someone who is bemused (I though) is using humor to distance themselves from something otherwise unpleasant. So a king might be bemused by his jester’s lowbrow jokes or a professor by his students’ attempts to get on his good side, but an audience would only be bemused with a comedian if the comedian were screwing up and they were half laughing at him.
    I don’t think it’s more than a misinterpretation. I doubt it is used to mean that as often as it can seem to mean that.
    Apparently, “amuse” used to mean much the same thing as “bemuse” does now. The OED lists this as the second sense: “to cause to ‘muse’ or stare; to confound, distract, bewilder, puzzle.”

  8. Indeed, as in “The vicar amused his parishioners by preaching in Latin.”

  9. Joe R, my interpretation of ‘bemused’ for a long time, certainly into adulthood, was the same as yours. Similarly, I always thought ‘nonplussed’ meant something like “vexed by one’s own inability to find a way through the situation at hand” (presumably influenced by the idea that non+plussed is something like un+impressed.)

  10. More on the new meaning of bemused from Jan Freeman here and from me here.

  11. Cf. Arrested Development and Tobias’s “I just blue myself” (colored himself blue; his double-entendres were a running gag)

  12. I’ve never heard bemused used with any meaning other than “puzzled, bewildered” on this side of the pond. That Nexis gives the other usage at 50% would, I submit, refer to a usage pattern particular to the US.

  13. mollymooly says:

    I haven’t noticed the novel sense of “bemused”. A quick Google of the Guardian website revealed no definite instances*, but many occurrences make equal sense on either interpretation, which would explain how people who infer the “wrong” meaning when first encountering the word can remain undisabused.
    * and this one doesn’t make sense to me in either meaning: “I’d brought along my toddler daughter – who was bemused by his client Freddie Starr having eaten a hamster”.

  14. It’s an IP usage.

  15. Guardian website revealed no definite instances
    Rgat’s because no one at the Guardian can write bemused without ang typos.
    It’s: my toddler daughter was bemused by Max Clifford’s client, Freddie Starr, having eaten a hamster – I’m sure you know that, it took me some time to figure it out.

  16. The first time I looked up “bemused” (and the only time, before today), I was probably around ten, and I looked it up in a dictionary that was probably intended for around-ten-year-olds, and it defined it simply as “amused”. Before today, I’d often noticed that some people seemed to draw a distinction between “bemused” and “amused”, but it wasn’t until I read your post that I learned that there’s supposed to be a distinction. Whoops!

  17. I’ve been reading the latest edition of Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage, and it really is an infuriating book. The introductory essay is even more tendentious, speciously reasoned, and populated with straw men than the essay introducing the last edition. It’s also lazier; Garner relies repeatedly on the argument (a generous word) that descriptivists are hypocrites, or don’t really believe their own theories, because they often write in Standard English themselves. (Garner says they “follow all the rules.”) And though the text itself occasionally admits some reality — its “Language Change Index,” e.g., which putatively measures, with a scale from 1 to 5, “how widely accepted various linguistic innovations have become,” places the usage comprised of to mean composed of at “Stage 4″ (indicating “a form … virtually universal but … opposed on cogent grounds [ha!] by a few linguistics stalwarts”) — more often Garner’s off in his own fantastical world, where he can issue edicts and pretend, for instance, that bemused is so rarely used to mean amused that this “mistake” doesn’t even register on his index, finely attuned, though Garner claims his new toy to be, to semantic drift.

  18. “Once I rung Kudjungie shed and blued it in a week”
    I didn’t think this would be considered that unusual. Maybe “rung” for “was a ringer in”.

  19. Cf. Arrested Development and Tobias’s “I just blue myself” (colored himself blue; his double-entendres were a running gag)
    As a fellow fan, I tip my hat to the germane mention. If anyone here doesn’t know the show, I strongly advise you pull up Netflix ASAP.

  20. I looked it up in a dictionary that was probably intended for around-ten-year-olds, and it defined it simply as “amused”
    That’s bad: the least you can do when writing a dictionary is look up the words somewhere and make sure you know what they all mean.

  21. I’ve been reading the latest edition of Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage, and it really is an infuriating book.
    Even more infuriating: for the last two editions, the Chicago Manual of Style, the bible of most American editorial departments, has put Garner in charge of their grammar section, resulting in an actual decrease in validity for that usually reliable work.
    I looked it up in a dictionary that was probably intended for around-ten-year-olds, and it defined it simply as “amused”
    That’s bad: the least you can do when writing a dictionary is look up the words somewhere and make sure you know what they all mean.
    Indeed. I’m appalled that someone so ignorant was allowed to write a dictionary for innocent youth. (It may someday be the case that the “amused” sense has prevailed to such an extent that no other need be mentioned in a beginners’ dictionary, but that day has not yet arrived.)

  22. Poor foreigners like me aren’t allowed to use Netflix.

  23. Even more infuriating: for the last two editions, the Chicago Manual of Style, the bible of most American editorial departments, has put Garner in charge of their grammar section, resulting in an actual decrease in validity for that usually reliable work.
    That is even more infuriating.
    Poor foreigners like me aren’t allowed to use Netflix.
    And that does suck. I hope you find some way to watch Arrested Development; it’s maybe the funniest show… ever.

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