Disavowed and Disabused

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One day, not long ago, I read a story in the Guardian about a man who mistook an alligator for a dog. The following sentence made me grab my pen:

But the man was quickly disavowed of his belief the creature was a dog when it bit him on the leg.

What? Surely the writer was reaching for the word disabused, not disavowed. The quotation went into my idea file until I was ready to use it.

Ten days later, I was ready to look for more uses of disavowed.

I found the phrase “was quickly disavowed of his belief.” Only, this time, the words—and the article I remembered reading (complete with photo of alligator)—were on an ad-heavy site called the Astra Herald. Puzzled, because there was no attribution, I went back to the Guardian to see if I’d been mistaken about where I’d first seen the story.

There was the original, but—unlike the article on the secondary site—this one had been corrected. The sentence in the Guardian now reads,

But the man was quickly disabused of his belief the creature was a dog when it bit him on the leg.

Kudos to Guardian editors for catching the error, but the mistaken use of disavow in place of disabuse is surprisingly common in places I wouldn’t expect to find it.

You might think the last place to look for an expert on Victorian literature would be in Northwestern’s African American studies department. But spend just a few minutes with Professor Jennifer DeVere Brody and you will quickly be disavowed of that notion. —Northwestern alumni magazine

“There’s this theory in Africa that China is Santa Claus. It isn’t. Our leaders need to be disavowed of that notion. —an investment analyst quoted on a financial site

One leaves Dissonant Neighbours effectively disavowed of any naïve assumption that “there is no early Welsh narrative verse.” —Modern Philology

I was already worried that the market might never take shape and I have so far not been disavowed of this. —scholarly abstract at Science Direct

The danger inherent in the current crisis is that no asymmetry of interests between the adversaries is obvious. Putin miscalculated badly in believing there was one and has now been disavowed of that belief. —European Leadership Network

Common synonyms for disavow:

In ordinary use, the verb disavow is always transitive. Here are some examples of correct usage:

In his expanded view, Mr. Cuban did not disavow his disdain for the PR industry.

The board will no doubt disavow any involvement in the choosing of an ad campaign.

Other Twitter accounts tied to the news agency quickly disavowed the fake tweet.

The 12 other researchers who co-authored the paper have disavowed the findings.

There is a legal term, “disavow of.”

disavow of: To repudiate the unauthorized acts of an agent; to deny
the authority by which he assumed to act.—Black’s Law Dictionary

That an executor occupies a trust relation toward those entitled to the estate, irrespective of the provisions of the will, and that no Statute of Limitations commences to run in favor of such executor, until disavowed of the trust by him, seems settled.

The most frequent meaning of disabuse is, “to free of a false or erroneous belief, to undeceive.”

Here is the example sentence and synonyms for disabuse in the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus:

It is not easy to disabuse people of something they’ve been taught to believe in.

disillusion about
undeceive about
set straight on
open someone’s eyes about
correct on
enlighten about
disenchant about
shatter someone’s illusions about

Here are some examples of the correct use of disabuse at fraze.it.

Ever try to disabuse someone of the idea that the landing on the moon was a hoax?

When I asked Sperling about this, he said nothing to disabuse me of this view.

It was his mother who eventually disabused him of this bizarre notion.

We are being rudely disabused of our vision of the future.

In day-to-day usage, if you find yourself writing of after disavowed, you almost certainly want the word disabused.

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