Make Your Editor Cry: Amuse vs. Bemuse

Make Your Editor Cry:  Amuse vs. Bemuse

To amuse someone is to make that person laugh or otherwise keep his attention. Perhaps some of you find my dry sense of humor amusing.

To bemuse is to confuse or puzzle. You would probably bemuse your history teacher if you wrote your essay on the American Revolutionary War as a series of limericks. “There once was a Whig from Nantucket…”

Both words are gifts to the English language from the French “muse.” It’s not that surprising that a French muse would both entertain and confuse all in the same root word, is it?

If you love everything, you’re easily amused. If you enjoy making people laugh, or keeping them entertained, you like to amuse them. The word amused means “pleasantly occupied” or “entertained.” If you love cats, you’ll be amused just watching kittens frolic in a sewing box.

Examples:

With modern state of the art special effects, there's nothing left to amuse our children.
He wrote the book to amuse Queen Mary in her captivity.

If you’re bemused, you’re muddled or preoccupied. It happens when you’re lost in thought, dazed, or overwhelmed. It’s almost always in the form bemused. It sounds a little bit like amused, but it’s not as much fun to be bemused. Usually a bemused history teacher is not really a happy history teacher .

Examples:

A misplaced comma or a sentence prematurely terminated can leave the reader bemused.
It's a look of bemused wonder mirrored only by the enigmatic stone monoliths of Easter Island.

To amuse is to entertain while to bemuse is to confuse. They really cannot be, and ought not be, used interchangeably.

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