Nonplussed about nonplussed

originally posted by Matt Clarke


I have noticed on pages 124 and 345 the word nonplussed has been used. For example, on page 345 it reads:

‘I scarcely expect the silk will be missed until someone sits up and takes inventory,’ Arithon admitted, nonplussed. says for nonplussed:

1 at_a_loss(p), nonplused, nonplussed, puzzled filled with bewilderment; “at a loss to understand those remarks”; “puzzled that she left without saying goodbye”

It seems that it is quite common for people to use nonplussed to mean the opposite of what it actually means, as Janny has. There is an interesting article on the following webpage under the heading of ‘No Mas’:

Anyway, i think this is the first time i have seen the word used this way in a book and was wondering if this was a sign that it has been accepted that the word has changed meaning.

Any thoughts?


originally posted by Hannah


Can’t comment on Janny’s use of the word, but this word has always irritated me. I have a mini-grudge against it. When I read (past-tense), I always had formed the paradigm that ‘nonplussed’ meant ‘not impressed’, ‘blas’’ or ‘nonchalant’. Then one time when I actually looked it up I was… nonplussed (!) that it actually was defined as ‘confused’ or ‘puzzled’. And now I have to keep reminding myself that that word doesn’t mean what I always think it means, and then I’m irritated at the word for having decieved me for so long. (Well, okay, I was deceiving myself.)

Sometimes I slip up and use it in a context to mean ‘nonchalant’, but I get the impression that none of the people I talk at really know what the word ‘nonplussed’ means, so no one’s commented thus far. does have it defined as:

To put at a loss as to what to think, say, or do; bewilder.

A state of perplexity, confusion, or bewilderment.


originally posted by Matt Clarke


It's nice to meet a fellow grudge-bearer.

The word always bothers me too due to similiar experiences.



originally posted by PurplePenny

Aha! That explains something. I've never heard nonplussed used for anything other than "at a loss to understand" so I was nonplussed as to why Arithon would be nonplussed in those circumstances :slight_smile:

The word that annoys me (or rather the incorrect usage of it annoys me) is "decimate". These days it gets used to mean "almost wiped out" but in fact it means quite the opposite. Decimation was a Roman punishment: every tenth man was executed. So if an army was decimated it was punished severely but the bulk of the army was left alive and able to fight.

originally posted by Auna

Spoken languages are alive and as such meanings will shift. There are many words that currently mean the opposite of what they once stood for. As more people use a word for a meaning, that becomes the new meaning. I rather enjoy using decimate to mean complete wipe out… the word just sounds so 'right'. :wink:

originally posted by Andy

I vote for switching the dictionary definition of nonplussed to the "nonchalant or not disturbed."

On a related note, the only word I know of in English that is has two accepted, used meanings that are opposites is "cleave." Used one way, it means to separate into two parts. Used another way, it means to put two things together.

originally posted by Blue

As much as I love English, it is still weird.

Someone said, "It is ridiculous to protest the purity of English, when English is as pure as a cribhouse whore. In fact, English will often knock other languages unconscious in a dark alley and rifle their pockets for new words."

THERE'S an interesting image - the English language as a mugger.

originally posted by Hannah


That's a hilarious mental image. I love the riffling of pockets for new words. :smiley:

originally posted by Susan C

The Oxford Dictionary has two meanings listed:
1. (of a person) surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react
2. informal-(of a person) unperturbed

Also in the Oxford Dictionary:
Usage: in standard usage means 'surprised and confused' In North American English, a new use has developed, meaning 'unperturbed' - more or less the opposite of its traditional meaning. This usage is considered common.

originally posted by Memory

Hannah - 'nonplussed' annoys me for exactly the same reasons :wink:


originally posted by Sean Monahan

As mental images go, it is more accurate to think of English as a pirate than as a mugger, both in terms of acquisition of new words, as well as actualy historical fact.

originally posted by Hannah


Also the wooden leg. :wink:

originally posted by Kath

Blue - the quote you just gave was coined by James Nicoll, a prolific poster on the rec.arts.sf.written newsgroup, way back in the nineties.

It seems to be quoted ever more frequently, but rarely with any attribution, let alone the correct one.

originally posted by R’is’n

English should really be called celtic-romanic-anglo-saxon-franc-ish. (And that’s just pre-Empire)

originally posted by Blue

Kath, I've never seen any kind of credit given to that quote. I'll have to remember that!

originally posted by Cheryl Detmer

Janny uses the word asperity some so I had to look it up. You taught me a new word Janny. My dad didn't even know of that one and he's a walking dictionary. I'll have to figure out how to put it in a sentence now. lol

originally posted by Andy

This is one of those time where being bilingual pays off. Aspero = rough in Spanish.