Word of the Week: Nonplussed

Today’s “Word of the Week” is nonplussed.  Nonplussed is the adjective form of the verb nonplus, which Webster’s College Dictionary defines as to “render utterly perplexed” or to “puzzle completely.”  Essentially, a person who is nonplussed is extremely confused or baffled.

Watch out for a common misuse of nonplussed.  According to OxfordDictionaries.com, “a new use has developed in recent years, meaning ‘unperturbed’—more or less the opposite of its traditional meaning: hoping to disguise his confusion, he tried 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 English.”

Let’s look at some examples of nonplussed from recent news articles.

“When the critics turn on [Rod Stewart] — most eagerly after the release of ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy ?’ — he’s nonplussed. ‘It was only a pop record. But if you picked up a music paper you would have thought I had opened a chemical factory that was poisoning the water supply in a deprived area of the world.’”


“Yesterday Vibe reported that a man dressed as the infamously creepy (but mostly harmless) Burger King mascot visited a McDonald’s restaurant much to the displeasure of the store’s managers. The man did not speak, but he toted a bag of Burger King burgers which he gave away for free as he danced merrily.  Nonplussed customers in the Rome, Georgia McDonald’s hesitantly took the food offered by the masked man as they waited in line. The man indulgently posed for a picture with a small child; the child kept his shoulders tensed and his arms tight to his sides while near the man, then darted away after the picture was taken.” http://exm.nr/UwTkbF

“Medical staff at Lyell McEwin Hospital were nonplussed at the mountains of mail, streams of phone calls and visitors for the gentle old man. Rather than pry, they did a discreet Google search and there he was on Wikipedia: Maxwell Edgar Fatchen, AM (born August 3, 1920) is an Australian journalist and children’s writer. ‘You’re famous,’ they gasped.” http://bit.ly/OZ5TtV

“When, on Thursday morning, students in yellow t-shirts pranced, slept, wailed, drew, read, danced, made paper airplanes, took off shoes, “did disciplined actions” and, in some senses, sang on the Quad, I observed two types of reactions from passersby: either a nonplussed blankness and fear of reacting inappropriately to the absurdity, causing most to just keep walking, or jeering laughter at the “Art” school freaks and their pretentious, postmodern crap.” http://bit.ly/RuXJY7

“[M]ost of us have the tendency to diminish how much is involved in any job that isn’t ours. Whether it is an executive underestimating his workforce’s challenges or his employee’s thinking their boss has a cushy situation, we are all susceptible to selling each other’s contributions short. Savvy Shopping is no different. When I told a friend that I considered myself a good shopper, he was nonplussed. To him, shopping consisted of going to the store, getting your stuff and taking it home. How can somebody be good at something that consists of so little?” http://bit.ly/RuZnsH

“A junior partner at Woods Gordon conducted David’s initial interview, beginning with the question, ‘What do you think of Michael Porter’s book?’ David had to admit, ‘I’ve never heard of Michael Porter.’

His interviewer was nonplussed. ‘You’re a graduate of Harvard, and you don’t know Competitive Strategy, the landmark work of another Harvard grad?’ This led to an even more damaging admission. ‘I didn’t graduate in business at Harvard.’ In fact, David had never so much as set foot in the prestigious business school or taken an economics course. ‘My undergraduate degree is in sociology, and my master’s is in music and philosophy.’ Even David’s consulting company, Missouri Valley Associates, seemed irrelevant when he had to admit it was a one-man firm.” http://bit.ly/TE36TR

“Captain Kirk, played by Windy Bowlsby, is unexpectedly beamed onto an alien planet. As he tries to collect himself, he’s jumped by a Gorn-like monster, they grapple, and the captain finds himself caught in an energy beam with his crew. Nonplussed, he looks at his captor and says, ‘So you’re gonna have us all compete so you decide whether or not to spare humanity?’ The alien confirms this. A bewildered crewmate asks how he knew that was their plan, to which Kirk replies, ‘This happens to me a lot.’” http://bit.ly/QDFq3v

For more information on the word nonplussed, please visit the following Web sites:




Works Cited:

“Nonplus.” Webster’s College Dictionary. 2nd Ed., 2001. Print

“Nonplussed.” OxfordDictionaries.com. Oxford University Press, 2012. Web. 23 October 2012.

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