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Under what circumstances should one use disorganised in place of unorganised, or are they proper synonyms?

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They're approximately synonyms, but disorganised has more the implication that either things were previously organised, or that they can/will/should be so in future (i.e. - it more strongly implies past or future involvement of an active agent affecting the level of organisation). – FumbleFingers Mar 28 '12 at 14:20
@FumbleFingers, thank you for your comment. Is there a reason you didn't post that as an answer? – Drew Noakes Mar 28 '12 at 14:31
I hope jwpat7's answer provides justification. There's more to this than what I put in my comment, and it's better to have it covered more extensively. – FumbleFingers Mar 28 '12 at 20:14
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Unorganised or unorganized has several specific meanings that disorganized or disorganised cannot supply, such as

  • Not having or belonging to a structured whole (eg "unorganized territories lack a formal government")
  • Not affiliated in a trade union (eg "the workers in the plant were unorganized")
  • Not organized; being without organic structure; specifically (Biol.), not having the different tissues and organs characteristic of living organisms, nor the power of growth and development; as, the unorganized ferments

For example, a region in a state of civil unrest may be disorganized, independently of whether it is unorganized.

Note: As to implications about previous or future and desired or expected states of organization, or "involvement of an active agent affecting the level of organization", context in specific cases may supply such expectations, but the words themselves do not do so with any level of reliability. For example, a person of organized habits may sometimes be disorganized and vice versa. If we say "Zap sure is disorganized", there is no implication that Zap was previously organized or will be so in future, but instead quite the reverse. On the other hand, if we say "Zap is disorganized at the moment", one might infer that Zap sometimes is organized. Depending on emphasis and tone of voice, one might further conclude that Zap is often, sometimes, or never organized.

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This answer goes along with FumbleFingers comment. "Disorganized" implies that it should be organized and there is a problem. "Unorganized" is generally used when no such implication is intended. – Jay Mar 28 '12 at 15:45
Even in the case of Zap the disorganised, I think there's at least some implication that (in a different universe, perhaps) Zap could actually be organised. On the other hand, we could say "This yeast culture consists of unorganised cells" (probably not "disorganised"), where we don't even contemplate an alternative universe in which those cells become organised. – FumbleFingers Mar 28 '12 at 20:18

protected by tchrist Feb 21 '15 at 23:54

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