Nonplussed about the increasing misuse of nonplussed.

This week we discuss the verb “nonplussed,” which Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines as “to cause to be at a loss as to what to say, think, or do : reduce to a state of total incapacity to act or decide.”  The word derives from the Latin non plus, which means “no more, no further.”  E.g.,

  • For a moment after the judge denied his unopposed motion, the attorney was nonplussed.
  • The man simply stared, nonplussed at the news that his wife had joined a convent.

Increasingly, however, the word nonplussed has acquired an informal secondary meaning that is used in the opposite sense of its traditional meaning, as “unperturbed or unfazed,” e.g.,

  • Despite the withering criticism, he tried to appear nonplussed.
  • Although he lost the election, he seemed nonplussed.

Sadly, the increasingly widespread informal—and incorrect—use of the word nonplussed means that it can create ambiguity in a sentence, e.g., “He was nonplussed by the dreadful news.”  So … was he at a momentary loss as to what to do?  Or was he unfazed by the news?  As you can see, misuse of the word has created a danger that its legitimate use may cause confusion and lead your reader to interpret a sentence to mean the opposite of what you intended.

My advice?  Use the word sparingly, so you aren’t nonplussed if your reader misinterprets your sentence.

That is all for now …

2 Comments

Filed under Troublesome Words

2 responses to “Nonplussed about the increasing misuse of nonplussed.

  1. miss opportunity

    In neither case is the word a verb.

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