That Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means: Nonplussed

“Over the past three years, [New York Giants quarterback Eli] Manning has given New York the impression that a dirty bomb could detonate in his locker and he would stand there nonplussed.”
New York Post

This quote actually means that if a dirty bomb exploded in quarterback Eli Manning’s locker he would be very upset, maybe even scream a little. Which is probably true, but not the point that the Post was trying to make about the calm, cool, and collected QB.

Yes, nonplussed does not mean “calm, cool, and collected,” even though many people seem to think so. Instead it means “very surprised and perturbed.” The confusion over nonplussed for most of us comes from that non-. It’s a prefix that, when tacked on to “plussed,” seems to mean that you’re “not plussed.” Plussed must mean upset or something like that. Right? Wrong! Plussed doesn’t mean anything in English. But nonplussed does.

Most experts think that nonplussed comes from the Latin non plus (no more, no further) and from there it evolved into an archaic English verb nonplus (unable to go further). It was used in early modern English to mean having one’s thoughts brought to a halt. In other words, someone nonplussed isperplexed, unable to think anymore.

By the late twentieth century, nonplussed also came to mean almost the exact opposite— “not perplexed, not confounded, unfazed, calm.” This opposite meaning of nonplussed may soon win the meanings race. Even Harvard-educated President Obama used it in this way. We prefer to stick with the old definitions, but in the interests of not confusing others, we don’t say nonplussed much. And you know, we’re not nonplussed about that.

nonplussed (adj): perplexed

excerpted from That Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means