This English language of ours can be a two-edged sword.
Take, for example, the condominium on the Fort Myer Heights in Arlington that advertises itself as "overlooking Washington." How, one might reasonably ask, could one with such a stunning view overlook it? Simply, the verb "to overlook" has two utterly contradictory dictionary meanings: to view a scene from above (as the Arlington condo does), or to ignore it.
So this gets us to a statement by Richard J. Gookin, associate chief of protocol for the State Department.
Called at home on Sunday by a reporter on the since-resolved problem of a Kensington man who married a young woman from India over her diplomat family's objection, Gookin commented: "I don't want it to seem that we are disinterested in the dispute because that's not the case."
Not disinterested? For heaven's sake, that's precisely what the State Department -- normally oh-so-precise in its language -- either was or should have been. Disinterested, by dictionary definition, means "impartial, unbiased." That's precisely the intermediary role most of us would expect the State Department to assume. But we don't want it to be uninterested -- that is, lacking interest.
Gookin chuckled when Metro Scene raised the question of departmental interest yesterday. "Well, I got a telephone call at home from a Post reporter on Sunday afternoon," he said. "You're right [in the definition of disinterest], I didn't want it to seem that we were uninterested."