Adventures in Language

What do you do when a word is so commonly misused that you might never know what someone means when they use it?

The word? Nonplussed. It means “baffled” but almost no one uses it that way. Most people seem to think it means “unimpressed” or “unperturbed”, which is pretty much the opposite of its historical meaning (in case you’re wondering, it comes from the Latin or French for “no more” as in “there is no more that can be said”). Occasionally, however, I do read a sentence where that word appears and think that the author is literate enough to use it properly, but I’m still unsure.

Check here for an instance of potential correct usage, but probably not. Go to stray observations, second sentence.

I suspect that since it is so rarely used “properly” that in my lifetime it will have a complete semantic shift and really confuse the hell out of people who occasionally read older books. It’ll be like reading an older hymn in church and see God described as “awful”.

In the meantime, it might just be best not to use the word “nonplussed” at all. It’s not really that necessary for clear communication and using it either makes you sound ignorant or snobbish depending on the listener and the way you use it.


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