Bemused vs Amused: Do you know the difference?

discussion posts

This is such a huge pet peeve of mine. Authors use the word “bemused” when they really mean “amused” all. the. TIME. Let’s review definitions, shall we?

amused definition

bemused definition





I read a book recently where the author used the word bemused TWICE. Now, I’ll say giving the author the benefit of the doubt, bemused could hypothetically have fit the situation. However, in the context of the story, amused would have made much more sense. And here I am, as a reader, wondering how nobody knows the difference between these two words! Not the author, not the editor, not anyone else who read this book before it got published.

But to be completely transparent with you, when I looked up bemused on, this is something else that popped up:

The verb bemuse (usually as the adjective bemused)is similar in sound to amuse, and has in fact taken on the meaning “to cause to be mildly amused.” Many usage experts and traditionalists consider this a misuse of bemuse, pointing out that its proper meaning is “to bewilder or confuse.” However, the history and use of bemuse has shown that is meaning is often ambiguous. It’s often the case that one’s feelings are a combination of bewilderment and amusement: Their customs bemuse most Americans. Even when it clearly means “to bewilder or confuse,” bemuse usually retains a lighthearted tone: one would not typically say: I was bemused by his motive for the murder.

So apparently, because everyone keeps using this word wrong, it’s starting to mean what everyone has been using it to mean. Isn’t that weird? It’s just so…frustrating to me, because it’s wrong! Just because people keep getting a math answer wrong doesn’t change what the answer actually is, right?

I was telling my husband about this strange phenomenon and he told me that the same thing happens with travesty vs tragedy. A lot of people use the word travesty to mean an even bigger tragedy, when in reality it means: “a false, absurd, or distorted representation of something.”

Anyway, there’s my rant for the day. Are there any words that you’ve noticed authors (or other people) consistently get wrong? Why do you think editors don’t catch that kind of thing?


DISCUSSION: Is the term “clean” harmful?

I read an article from Book Riot the other day discussing why the term “clean” is harmful. The author explains that sex, underage drinking, and swearing are not “dirty” things and so calling books that don’t contain those things “clean” is harmful.

discussion posts

I understand the author’s point completely and, to an extent, I agree. My main issue with the article is that she ends with this paragraph:

Publishers and authors are in the business of words. I trust they can find a better, less holier-than-thou way to say what they mean. Unless, of course, this is exactly what they mean.

Honestly, this paragraph feels a little “holier-than-thou” to me, but that’s beside the point. My problem is that she never offers an alternative to the term currently being used. I live in a super religious and conservative community. We have patrons coming into the library EVERY DAY looking for “clean” reads. That’s just the term they understand and we have to call these books something. I’d love to use another term, but…what other descriptors are there? This is not a rhetorical question, I’d really like to know. I discussed this very thing with one of my fellow librarians and we were pretty stumped.

In library school, it was very heavily emphasized that a librarian’s job is to be discreet and that no patron should feel judged in any way for what they choose or choose not to read. With that being said, obviously no self-respecting librarian wants a patron to feel dirty or less-than if they choose not to read “clean” books. Because of this, I almost feel like if a better word were out there, then librarians would have found it already?

Another point where I kind of disagree with the author is where she says how all books that aren’t considered “clean” must, in fact, be dirty.

And the word “clean” when applied to books is a clear value judgement against books that aren’t clean. Not “clean” = dirty. “Those books” are deemed less-than, worthless, like a used tissue.

I don’t really think it’s that black and white and I don’t think that the existence of “clean” books necessarily implies that not “clean” books = worthless. The way I see it, the term “clean” is more a descriptor of what the book is than what other books aren’t. However, I can see the point that labeling a book “clean” may imply that the acts of sex, drug/alcohol-use, and swearing are “unclean” or “dirty” (which, again, is not how we want patrons to feel).

In the end, I agree that “clean” isn’t the best term, but I don’t agree that it’s the worst. Sometimes I feel like we’re in a world that is so sensitive about the littlest things (and this is coming from a POC who has lived for the last seven years in a very white community). I’m not saying we shouldn’t be sensitive to things, and I’m not saying that this specific example should be something we ignore. But I feel like every alternative to the word “clean” that I’ve come up with, could be argued as insensitive to someone, somewhere. And thinking about that makes me so very exhausted.

What do you think? Should we move away from the “clean” label? What would you use as an alternative?