So, as the title says:

  1. Can I refer to the disbursal of abstract things like information?

  2. Should I? If I were to write "the disbursal of information" to imply that people were being tightfisted with the information and treating it like an asset, would anyone get the intimation? Or would they just think that I meant to write dispersal?

  1. By some modern definitions, you could, but it would still be odd to read. I've never heard or read it in any other context aside from matters of money.
  2. Traditionally, you should not. If my French teacher was correct, bourse relates to money. Judging by most modern uses of the word bourse (from which disbursal is derived), this is still the case.

I think your audience would suspect you used the wrong word if you used disbursal in that context. Especially when the words are so similar, I would opt for the universally accepted dispersal in this case.

  • Thank you. I have decided that you are right. Disbursal seems to be too specific in its meaning to use this way, and moreover, I probably shouldn't tamper with words which are so often confused. – Hallie Feb 19 '14 at 16:25

The dictionaries are divided in their judgements: Collins licenses merely the financial usage:

disburse vb ... (tr) to pay out

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

AHDEL concedes that there is a broadening:

dis·burse . . . tr.v. . . . To pay out, as from a fund; expend. ...

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

And RHKW allows the financial and other broader senses:

dis•burse v.t. . . .

_1. to pay out (money), esp. for expenses; expend.

_2. to distribute. [ / broadcast, disseminate]

Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc.

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