Tag Archives: nonplus

bemuse, nonplus

When They Found Out What These Words Are Supposed To Mean, He Was Bemused But She Was Nonplussed!

More often than we even tend to admit, we learn words by seeing them in context and figuring them out by what they look like they should mean, with an eye to what the context allows. This is how, for instance, internecine came to have a sense of ‘mutually destructive’: people saw inter and thought ‘between’, when in the original the inter was just an intensifier, sort of like how in English we can say through and through or up one side and down the other or right down or downright or…

But also more often than we like to admit, when we learn that a word has a traditional or original meaning that is different from how many people use it now, we like to use it as a weapon. See decimate for a sparkling example. “You idiot, don’t you know that decimate refers to a practice of killing one in ten? You use it like it means reducing to one tenth, you illiterate barbarian!”

I wouldn’t be surprised if you were bemused by the one and nonplussed by the other. I also wouldn’t be surprised if you were bemused by the one and nonplussed by the other. Continue reading