04 March 2011

"Nonplussed": What Does It Mean? LET'S DO THIS.

(Google Dictionary)
non·plussed Adjective   /nänˈpləst/ listen
  • (of a person) Surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react
    • he would be completely nonplussed and embarrassed at the idea
  • (of a person) Not disconcerted; unperturbed 

Definition of NONPLUS

 (Merriam Webster)

transitive verb
: to cause to be at a loss as to what to say, think, or do : perplex

It's been a long decade since I learned the definition of "nonplussed." I remember it well: Bond Thompson, the 9th grade English teacher, was holding "Magic Vocabulary Day," when she used our backwards names and we came up with mnemonic devices to remember our new vocab words. "Nonplussed," I read, "means being so surprised that you don't know what to do. That's funny, it sounds like it means 'not-plussed,' and 'plussed' must mean excited. I'll have to come up with a good way to remember that it doesn't mean that."

My mnemonic device: A guy is sitting at a bar, having a drink. Someone comes up to him and gives him all this crazy news about his wife being a hammerhead shark and his new job with the Philadelphia Phillies or something. He's like "WHAAAA?" and simultaneously, a huge Play-Doh plus sign tube shoots out at him and knocks him off his stool! And the man is left surprised and confused so much that he is unsure how to react.

Yet ten years later, I hear people using it the wrong way everyday. I looked it up again today for good measure - you know, just to make SURE I'm still right about all this - and what do I find? Google has taken it upon itself to adjust the definition of "nonplussed" to include both meanings.

How on earth does this make sense? How could a word with a synonym like "aghast" also mean "Not disconcerted; unperturbed?" Just because Obama misused it in the example they gave?
While the young Obamas are not untouched by the constant media coverage, Obama tells PEOPLE the sometimes bruising race for the presidency has seemed to roll off his daughters, "I've been really happy by how nonplussed they've been by the whole...
Jul 23, 2008 -  Barack Obama -  ABC News
Are you kidding me? It was one thing when the dictionary just gave up and started defining "nauseous" as "nauseated" just because everyone in the entire world would rather go with what sounds right than what is right. I get THAT one. That was a screw up in the first place. But nonplussed? This logic would only stand if "plussed" really were a word we used a lot, and if we meant it as being excited or reactive in anyway. As it stands, we don't say "plussed."

If you want to say "nonchalant," you should go for it. Now that's a great word. If you want to say "nonplussed," you better have a giant red Play-Doh tube in the shape of a really deep plus sign coming at you, buddy. Or else.

And Google Dictionary, this isn't over.

1 comment:

  1. Thank god I thought I was the only sane person left