6 06 2008

Nonplussed is an odd word. I don’t think anyone ever uses that word in an ordinary conversation. “My, you were  nonplussed when Joe told us he slaughters his own chickens.” Nope, doesn’t happen. Besides, it’s turning into a self-antonym. It’s supposed to mean “surprised and confused.” (according to the dictionary folks)
Joseph was nonplussed to discover that Lucy was his date, not the plumber come to repair the upstairs toilet, especially since she only told him after she had finished the job.
But it seems that people are now using it to mean “not disconcerted; unperturbed”
Well, that’s disconcerting!

Here are two definitions, the first from 

and the second from Unabridged (v 1.1)Cite This SourceShare This

non·plus  // <![CDATA[
 Audio Help   [non-pluhs, non-pluhs] Pronunciation KeyShow IPA Pronunciation verb, -plussed or -plused, -plus·sing or -plus·ing, noun
–verb (used with object)
1. to render utterly perplexed; puzzle completely.


2. a state of utter perplexity.

[Origin: 1575–85; (n.) < L nōn plūs lit., not more, no further, i.e., a state in which nothing more can be done]
—Synonyms 1. perplex, confuse, confound, disconcert.



  • adjective 1 surprised and confused. 2 N. Amer. informal unperturbed.

  — USAGE In standard English nonplussed means ‘surprised and confused’. A new meaning, ‘not disconcerted; unperturbed’, has developed recently in North American English, probably on the assumption that the prefix non- must have a negative meaning; this is not yet accepted as standard usage.

  — ORIGIN from Latin non plus ‘not more’.
p.s. Am I the only one who wishes he could go back to vocabulary lessons in school and have fun writing those descriptive sentences? I hated it back then, but now I think it would cool to make a little story out of them.




4 responses

6 06 2008

Here is my favorite self-antonym (I didn’t know they had a name):



1. (transitive verb) examine something in detail: to subject something to a thorough examination

2. (transitive verb) look through something quickly: to look through or read something quickly

I like that the word is now used for computer “scanners” because they literially examine something in detail, quickly.

– Carl

17 12 2008
Euglossine Bee

My favorite is “cleave”

It has two main definitions:
– to adhere closely; stick; cling
as in the Bible, where it says a man and a woman shall leave their own families and cleave to each other and
– to split or divide by or as if by a cutting blow, esp. along a natural line of division, as the grain of wood.

8 06 2008
Ana Cristina

I came across your blog through ficlets, and I got a chill reading this post because I recently used the word nonplussed in one of my ficlets, and I was wondering over how to use it. I decided to use it as “not disconcerted” because that’s how most people know it nowadays. And, as you so wittily put it, that *is* disconcerting! 😉

15 12 2008
ButAsForMe! » Kearns Goodwin: Bush Wouldn’t Have Handled Shoe Incident So Well Two Years Ago

[…] was unfazed by the incident.  But he fell into the too common mistake of using nonplussed, which means surprised and confused, to mean precisely its opposite. Read Entire Story: Kearns Goodwin: Bush […]

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