Nonplussed = unfazed?

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Tue Nov 7 17:12:59 UTC 2000

>In today's Word Spy, I pointed out that reporter Gina Kolata of The New York
>Times uses the word "nonplussed" incorrectly in the following citation:
>"Yet he was nonplussed by the number of attacks on that single day last
>week. 'I think it's fairly typical,' he said."
>Clearly she's using it here to mean "unfazed" and I pointed out that
>although this is a common error, the correct meaning is "bewildered; at a
>loss." One subscriber has taken me to task on this. Calling me a
>"prescriptivist" (ouch!), he said that the "unfazed" meaning is now
>descriptive of actual usage, particularly in American English. None of my
>dictionaries mention (much less sanction) this usage. I know it's a common
>error, but I still insist that it's an error. Is usage winning this battle?

One need not worry about the label "prescriptivist". A poll of the
ignorant, illiterate, and careless -- which of course defines the word's
true meaning -- will indicate that "prescriptivist" is extremely
nonspecific but most likely has something to do with a pharmacy.

As for the reference to "American" usage ... maybe the anti-pharmaceutical
subscriber would be happy if the word "error" were universally replaced
with "Americanism". Instead of saying "I never make an error; that's my
idiolect" I could say "I never make an error; I'm an American".

-- Doug Wilson

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