Say What? Incorrectly Used Words.

Nonplus: verb meaning completely perplexed or being in a state of bewilderment; noun meaning a standstill.

I always thought nonplussed meant unruffled ennui:

You: Whoa! Did you see the donkey climbing out of my closet? How long has that been hiding behind my vacuum?

Me: Yawn. Donkey? I am so nonplussed right now.


But I was surprised to find out that nonplussed implies a certain degree of shock, perplexity, or bewilderment that pushes one to the point of having no reaction, or a standstill.

You: Did you see that Donkey exiting my closet?

Me: Yes, I saw him and I am so shocked that I cannot say anything about this strange scenario. When was the last time you vacuumed?

Literally speaking, the word comes from the Latin roots non and plus, which translates as no further. By 1582, the word was being used to indicate a state at which one could go no further. But, nine short years later, in 1592, the word had already evolved to imply some degree of flummox. What’s really strange is that the word quandary was borne in 1579, out of the Latin root quando, meaning “when?” and has not only a similar etymology, but almost the exact same definition.

Now, an English etymology book published in 1783, explains that the word is “vulgarly pronounced nonplushed”, so I have to wonder if I’m not pronouncing the word incorrectly too, being a lowly vulgar peasant and all.

But, what all this really gets at is the ambiguity and intricacy of language. We use words to approximate and symbolize what we’re trying to discuss, but how often are we having fluid, comprehensible conversations filled with misappropriated words? How much do definitions count in relationship to the intention of the speaker? Does tone sometimes beat meaning the way paper beats rock?

Categories: etymology | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Say What? Incorrectly Used Words.

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