On Becoming Nonplussed by “Nonplussed”

Language is constantly changing, and good editors stay abreast of changes in usage and spelling. But last night, a writer sent me reaching for the dictionary because I was sure he had misused nonplussed, and I was absolutely nonplussed by his incorrect usage.

I’m currently reading The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis, who will speak at this year’s EAC conference in June. I’ve loved politics since I was young, and this book is a fun romp through the wily political process. (CBC television made a series based on the book.) Last night in bed, I read this sentence:

To his credit (and my good fortune), he seemed nonplussed by my moronic response.

Obviously, Fallis is conveying that the character was not puzzled by the moronic response. That’s not right, I said, as I reached for my COD (not to be confused with OCD), which is always at hand. Nonplussed means you are puzzled — I was sure of it.

Except I was wrong.

According to the dictionary, nonplussed means “perplexed.” Okay, right. But the second definition given, common in North America, is “unfazed.” Looks like this is a case of incorrect usage being so common that it becomes correct.

I was absolutely nonplussed by this information, but then I shrugged my shoulders and was nonplussed. As I said, language is constantly changing — whether or not I get the memo.

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Filed under books and awards, editing and writing, usage

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