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View Full Version : Do you know what the word nonplussed means?


NAF1138
06-10-2011, 09:16 AM
Poll coming. Edit: maybe not I can't remember how to attach a poll.:smack:

I am asking because I thought the word had a totally different definition from it's actual one until my mid 20s when I was corrected in a rather embarrassing way in a professional context. Yet I feel like this is one of those cases where society let me down because I frequently see my incorrect understanding of the meaning of the word being used.

So, I am wondering how common this is.

Be honest, no one will judge you here...much. ;)

So does nonplussed mean

1)to be unconcerned
2) to be confused.

Living Well Is Best Revenge
06-10-2011, 09:22 AM
I've thought it meant "unimpressed."

One And Only Wanderers
06-10-2011, 09:22 AM
I would say it had a similar meaning to flabbergasted - kind of like shocked.

sandra_nz
06-10-2011, 09:23 AM
I'd for for 1 - unconcerned.

Freudian Slit
06-10-2011, 09:24 AM
For a long time I thought it meant unimpressed but then I learned it meant bewildered or surprised. Maybe I was confusing it with nonchalant?

Markxxx
06-10-2011, 09:24 AM
"MY" definition of the word was always "unconcerned"

Fuzzy Dunlop
06-10-2011, 09:26 AM
For a long time I thought it meant unimpressed but then I learned it meant bewildered or surprised. Maybe I was confusing it with nonchalant?

When you found out, would you say you were nonplussed?

Indian
06-10-2011, 09:26 AM
#2

confused.

lieu
06-10-2011, 09:26 AM
I thought it meant underwhelmed or unaffected. I was wrong.

Strinka
06-10-2011, 09:28 AM
Clearly, it means subtracted. ;)

Living Well Is Best Revenge
06-10-2011, 09:29 AM
I am nonplussed that apparently I've been mistaken for all the years.

Well maybe not entirely wrong:

From Wikitionary:

Usage notes

In recent North American English nonplussed has come to mean "unimpressed".[1] In 1999, this was considered a neologism, ostensibly from "not plussed", although "plussed" by itself is not a recognized English word. The "unimpressed" meaning is not considered standard usage by at least one authoritative source.[2]

shiftless
06-10-2011, 09:29 AM
Plussed = Addition
Nonplussed = Subtraction

I have always heard it as similar to "disconcerted", with a surprise element.

njtt
06-10-2011, 09:32 AM
I would say it had a similar meaning to flabbergasted - kind of like shocked.

Yes, this, but milder than "flabbergasted" or "shocked". More like "momentarily* flabbergasted".


*But "momentarily" is another word many people misunderstand. I am using it in what I think is the better established use, "for a moment", rather than "in a moment."


I predict,however, that the descriptivist stormtroopers will soon be in this thread to tell us all that it means whatever people want it to mean.

Khadaji
06-10-2011, 09:34 AM
I thought it meant confused

hajario
06-10-2011, 09:38 AM
I thought that it meant something like unconcerned or unfazed. I've only ever seen it in writing though. I've never heard it spoken nor have I ever used it in any form.

guizot
06-10-2011, 09:40 AM
Maybe I was confusing it with nonchalant?I think that's what gets people: both words are of Latin origin, and "by analogy," people perhaps perceive them as indicating the same thing.

Lukeinva
06-10-2011, 09:42 AM
It's the opposite of plussed.

Cat Fight
06-10-2011, 09:43 AM
I know what it means, but I always have to remind myself. The incorrect usage just feels right. I think I might be imagining a chicken that has yet to be plucked and is, therefore, undisturbed. I don't know.

Grey
06-10-2011, 09:49 AM
Being caught flat footed, in a mental context. At least that's how I always thought of it.

corkboard
06-10-2011, 09:53 AM
I thought that it meant something like unconcerned or unfazed. I've only ever seen it in writing though. I've never heard it spoken nor have I ever used it in any form.

This is how I used it just this morning in another thread. If I used it wrong, I'm unconcerned.

Cestrian
06-10-2011, 09:54 AM
It's the opposite of plussed.

Surely it wouldn't be the opposite of "plussed" just the absence of plussed.

NAF1138
06-10-2011, 10:12 AM
Ok, so it wasn't just me. I suppose my definition #2 isn't totally accurate it's more confusion/surprise than it is straight confusion, but I didn't want to put up something that was a straight definition in the OP so I just picked a listed synonym.

And the opposite of plussed is antiplussed, not nonplussed.

John DiFool
06-10-2011, 11:53 AM
It means you are unable to add.

Cat Whisperer
06-10-2011, 11:56 AM
2 - Confused (I think it's more like when you go to a party and when the hostess opens the door, you find out it's a nude party - surprise!).

Bosstone
06-10-2011, 11:59 AM
I predict,however, that the descriptivist stormtroopers will soon be in this thread to tell us all that it means whatever people want it to mean.I find it hilarious that you call the people who are in favor of linguistic freedom "stormtroopers." Surely those are the ones who wish to impose their view on others?

That said, nonplussed has never meant unconcerned for me, and I'm, well, nonplussed that others think it does. The best I can figure is that some folks conflated it with nonchalant or a similar word at some point.

Cat Whisperer
06-10-2011, 12:00 PM
Usage
In standard use nonplussed means‘ surprised and confused’, as in she was nonplussed at his eagerness to help out. In North American English a new use has developed in recent years, meaning ‘unperturbed’ — more or less the opposite of its traditional meaning — as in he was clearly trying to appear nonplussed. This new use probably arose on the assumption that non- was the normal negative prefix and must therefore have a negative meaning. It is not considered part of standard EnglishI don't like it when the lowest common denominator sets policy.

LouisB
06-10-2011, 12:11 PM
Its the sensation you feel when you are called out for misusing a word you obviously don't know the meaning of.

Happens to me fairly often.

Cat Whisperer
06-10-2011, 12:15 PM
Its the sensation you feel when you are called out for misusing a word you obviously don't know the meaning of.

Happens to me fairly often.
Just tell them it's a new meaning.

Chefguy
06-10-2011, 12:29 PM
Surprised or confused.

teela brown
06-10-2011, 12:32 PM
I've always understood it to mean puzzled, confused or surprised.

SciFiSam
06-10-2011, 12:35 PM
Surprised and probably rendered momentarily speechless by this.

Thudlow Boink
06-10-2011, 12:41 PM
I've thought it meant "unimpressed."I am nonplussed to find out how many people in this thread think it means this. Where did you get this idea from? Was it confusion with "nonchalant"?

Chessic Sense
06-10-2011, 01:00 PM
You ever see someone so baffled, confused, and enraged that their mouth tries to form words, but all that comes out is a stream of grunts? "I...y...bu...wh...a...u..."?

They're nonplussed.

twickster
06-10-2011, 01:13 PM
I'd say "taken aback."

And if you want to do a poll, you'll have to do in in IMHO -- they're not enabled in MPSIMS.

pulykamell
06-10-2011, 01:22 PM
Utterly confused, perplexed, dumbfounded -- that sort of thing.

The one that really annoys me, even though I tend to be tolerant and descriptivist about these things, is the misuse of the word "penultimate." Also, "disinterested," but I can give that one a pass.

cochrane
06-10-2011, 01:34 PM
i used to think it meant unimpressed. I did eventually learn it meant to be caught off-guard or momentarily unable to come up with a response to something.

Sateryn76
06-10-2011, 01:35 PM
I always thought of it as the opposite of "plussed" meaning pleased. So, unpleased, but in a casual way.

Deegeea
06-10-2011, 01:43 PM
I always related it mentally to "non sequitur" - non sequitur is the thing, nonplussed is how you feel when it happens. They both mean (to me, literally/derivationally/the folk etymology in my head) something like "nothing follows" or blankness.

A blase reaction to something someone expected to be impressive, can vaguely resemble nonplus (which may be the source of the slide into "unfazed" meaning) but generally it's a reaction to something unexpected. Not really the same as confusion but I can see how that would be related, too. Many people in this thread have given the exact meaning I think of - "caught off guard" or "taken aback" are especially apt, as is "rendered momentarily speechless."

Kobal2
06-10-2011, 01:49 PM
Confused or caught off guard and momentarily stunned.

Chronos
06-10-2011, 02:05 PM
I always thought it meant "unimpressed", or "unconcerned", or whatever. As for how I got that impression, it seems to me that it was the same way anyone ever gets any impression of what any word means: That seemed to be what other folks meant when they used it. Given the large number of people who think it's each meaning, it seems to me like it might be best to avoid the word entirely, since no matter how you use it, it looks like a lot of folks are going to get the wrong impression.

Malleus, Incus, Stapes!
06-10-2011, 03:12 PM
The word equivalent of :confused:, eg, "I was nonplussed to see a miniature elephant sleeping on the couch, until my brother told me he was just taking care of it for the neighbors."

saje
06-10-2011, 03:48 PM
It means surprised and confused at the same time.

Boyo Jim
06-10-2011, 04:12 PM
I think of it as "taken aback" -- surprised and confused.

Skald the Rhymer
06-10-2011, 04:22 PM
It means confused. My eighth-grade English teacher included it among words she wanted us to learn, and giving her great hotness we all did as we were asked.

pravnik
06-10-2011, 04:36 PM
Either "unfazed" or "confused," depending on usage. I had to look it up once when I saw it being used in a context that made no sense in the usage I first learned.

Balance
06-10-2011, 04:36 PM
I have always understood it as "confused", with sort of a connotation of "overwhelmed". That is, a particular state in which you are confused and unable to respond because your brain is struggling to process information it's just received. The roots ("Non" + "plus" = "no" + "more") lead me to think of it that way--you've hit your limit and are (momentarily) unable to deal with any more. Your buffer has overrun.

Boyo Jim
06-10-2011, 04:44 PM
Either "unfazed" or "confused," depending on usage. I had to look it up once when I saw it being used in a context that made no sense in the usage I first learned.

Those two words seem almost, but not quite, opposites to me. Unfazed means unaffected to me, or "taken in stride". Confused -- doesn't.

tr0psn4j
06-10-2011, 04:48 PM
Plussed = Addition
Nonplussed = Subtraction

I have always heard it as similar to "disconcerted", with a surprise element.

It doesn't mean subtraction, it means lack of addition!

koeeoaddi
06-10-2011, 04:48 PM
mild cognitive dissonance

pravnik
06-10-2011, 04:55 PM
Those two words seem almost, but not quite, opposites to me. Unfazed means unaffected to me, or "taken in stride". Confused -- doesn't.Yeah, that was exactly why I was confused. I can see why people would complain about a word taking on the exact opposite meaning or close to it, but I suppose you could make the same argument about the modern uses of "incredible" or "unbelievable." Strictly speaking, "The Incredible Hulk" should be a pathological liar.

Alan Smithee
06-10-2011, 05:17 PM
It means speechless with surprise, shock or confusion. You can think of "nothing more" to say at the moment.

Now for bonus points, what does bemused mean?

Skald the Rhymer
06-10-2011, 05:19 PM
It means speechless with surprise, shock or confusion. You can think of "nothing more" to say at the moment.

Now for bonus points, what does bemused mean?

Bewildered. Some people think it means "amused," and when the revolution comes they will be the second to be put against the wall.

Boyo Jim
06-10-2011, 05:31 PM
Set upon by muses?

Bosstone
06-10-2011, 05:51 PM
Bewildered. Some people think it means "amused," and when the revolution comes they will be the second to be put against the wall.Now that one I have conflated. I don't treat it as a synonym of amused, but I use it to mean amused bewilderment. Sort of a confusion that isn't alarming or disconcerting.

SpoilerVirgin
06-10-2011, 05:58 PM
When I saw the thread title, I immediately thought "It means either surprised or not surprised." I knew that one meaning was the dictionary definition, and the other was the way it's typically used, but I couldn't remember which was which.

Balance
06-10-2011, 06:00 PM
Bewildered. Some people think it means "amused," and when the revolution comes they will be the second to be put against the wall.
I prefer the "lost in thought" secondary definition, but I'm with you on the people who think it means "amused".

I would give Bosstone a pass, though, since he only attributed connotations of amusement to it, which I could see. A state of "I have no idea what's going on, but it's kind of funny" could plausibly be described as "bemused" without trampling on the definition.

Rhiannon8404
06-10-2011, 06:19 PM
I always took it to mean unfazed or not bothered.

BigT
06-10-2011, 07:11 PM
Huh. I always thought it meant unhappy. The common meaning was barely unhappy, while the real meaning was to be so unhappy as to be speechless. It just sounds like a word that came from 1984.

Autolycus
06-11-2011, 12:05 AM
At first I was nonplussed to find out I was using the word wrong, but now I am simply bemused.

Bosstone
06-11-2011, 12:20 AM
I would give Bosstone a pass, though, since he only attributed connotations of amusement to it, which I could see. A state of "I have no idea what's going on, but it's kind of funny" could plausibly be described as "bemused" without trampling on the definition.Works for me.

I generally don't believe in 1:1 synonyms. Every word, no matter how closely related it is to another, has a different connotation.

Bewildered = confused in general
Puzzled = confused about a specific thing, likely temporarily
Baffled = confused about a specific thing, likely permanently without outside help
Bemused = confused but amused

And so on. If bemused only meant confused, I'd just use confused.

astro
06-11-2011, 12:25 AM
My impression has always been that "nonplussed" means >

An unsure pause in response characterized by a moderate level of surprise or confusion at events or actions that have just transpired.

elfkin477
06-11-2011, 12:26 AM
It means speechless with surprise, shock or confusion. You can think of "nothing more" to say at the moment.

Now for bonus points, what does bemused mean?It means the same thing as nonplussed, addled, befuddled, disconcerted, discombobulated and confounded do - confused.

I learned both nonplussed and bemused so young I never had the opportunity to assume they meant something else.

Cat Whisperer
06-11-2011, 12:32 AM
Works for me.

I generally don't believe in 1:1 synonyms. Every word, no matter how closely related it is to another, has a different connotation.<snip>
That's what I think, too - different words with slightly different meanings allows for a wide range of nuances.

Alan Smithee
06-11-2011, 02:02 AM
Works for me.

I generally don't believe in 1:1 synonyms. Every word, no matter how closely related it is to another, has a different connotation.

Bewildered = confused in general
Puzzled = confused about a specific thing, likely temporarily
Baffled = confused about a specific thing, likely permanently without outside help
Bemused = confused but amused

And so on. If bemused only meant confused, I'd just use confused.The problem with this is that the connotation you give to bemused occurs (AFAIK) only due to the similarity in sound. The actual connotation I infer from the entry here (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/bemused) is one of puzzlement. To bemuse someone is to cause them to have to think about something, i.e., to muse it over so as to understand it.

Grumman
06-11-2011, 02:15 AM
So does nonplussed mean

1)to be unconcerned
2) to be confused.
I think I've always thought of it as something in between. It's a very deadpan sort of confusion.

cmyk
06-11-2011, 03:54 AM
I didn't truly take notice of the word nonplussed, until I heard someone use it about 10 years ago. Then it seemed like everyone was using the word. Perhaps confirmation bias. Anyway, I looked it up having no idea what it meant, and found that most were using it incorrectly.

I tried tossing the word in conversation or email at first, because the word is compelling for some reason. I want to use it. But now I refrain from doing so, since if misinterpreted, it'll change the meaning to the exact opposite of my intention.

So now I just substitute it, depending on context, with something everyone knows like, speechless, gobsmacked, mortified, surprised, shocked stupid, etc...

Pseudocode
06-11-2011, 09:38 AM
I find it interesting that all three usage examples on the Google dictionary page for nonplussed (http://www.google.com/search?q=nonplussed&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&tbs=dfn:1&tbo=u) use the word to mean unperturbed.

I would imagine that the majority of people use it this way. If that makes me a descriptivist, then so be it, but I think the "surprised and confused" camp are fighting a losing battle.

Personally, I don't use the word at all because of the potential for misunderstanding.

Animastryfe
06-11-2011, 10:52 AM
The answer is #2. My dictionary also says that in recent years the word has also been used in the #1 meaning, because people think that the 'non' is the negative prefix.

Edit: I usually see this word used in older books.

Clothahump
06-11-2011, 11:11 AM
Confused

Cat Whisperer
06-11-2011, 02:32 PM
I sometimes wonder when I'm writing correctly, how many people think I'm making mistakes because *they* don't know any better. {Shudders}

Nzinga, Seated
06-11-2011, 02:45 PM
It means confused, and I only know that because of a great Cracked article about commonly misused words.

These kinds of words are my favorite, because I get to have someone try to tell me I used it wrong, looking their noses down on me and then, Surprise! I used it correctly!

ETA: Exactly Cat Whisperer. In writing, they would think you were ignorant, because you aren't there to correct them. But in real life, it can be fun to watch them try to 'correct' you.

Alan Smithee
06-11-2011, 02:58 PM
As a descriptivist, I accept that words shift in meaning and that that is a fine thing. There is no moral necessity for words to retain their original meaning or form. No one today objects to cherry or pea, and no one cares that aks is an older form than ask. Eventually, the day will come when no one will object to using nonplussed to mean unperturbed, and that is fine and appropriate.

As a descriptivist, I can tell you that that day won't come until I'm dead. :D

Nzinga, Seated
06-11-2011, 03:16 PM
Here is the Cracked article (http://www.cracked.com/article_15664_9-words-that-dont-mean-what-you-think.html). Love those words. Always trying to remember to wedge them into conversations.