Nonplussed: Can’t trust that word

While reading Denial by Beverley McLachlin this week, I came upon the word nonplussed.

Nonplussed is one of those words that people don’t use in conversation. We are left to conclude its meaning from where we find it in writing. Up to this week, every time I’d read the word it had meant unperturbed.

In her book, McLachlin used the word in a way that did not mean unperturbed. Quite the opposite. Her character was taken aback and surprised by his circumstance.

Seeing this, I was taken aback and surprised. Nonplussed, as it turns out.

I said to my husband, “What do you think nonplussed means?”

“Surprised,” he said.

Huh. I touched my finger to the word in my e-book and selected “Look up.” The answer came:

1: unsure about what to say, think, or do:  Surprised
2: not bothered, surprised, or impressed by something: Unperturbed

I am not nonplussed (unperturbed) by these definitions. I am quite nonplussed (surprised).

What to do with a word with two opposite meanings?

May our politicians never make use of the term. Misunderstanding and world conflict could result.

No, no, nonplussed is a word not to trust.

9 thoughts on “Nonplussed: Can’t trust that word

  1. marianbeaman

    Arlene, to me nonplussed suggests 2 opposite meanings. “Non” is a minus and “plus” is a plus. Yeah, they do cancel each other out. Just like the dangerous word “cleave”–to cling to and to cut asunder. I agree with Ally, use at your own risk.

    Reply
    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      You’re onto something there. This is from dictionary.com: The first records of nonplussed as an adjective come from around 1600. The word nonplus was originally used as a noun, and it comes from the Latin phrase nōn plūs, literally translating as “not more” and meaning “no further,” referring to a state in which nothing more can be done—a standstill.

      Reply

Leave a Reply to Bridgesburning Chris Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.