Bemused, Nonplussed, and Bewildered

Let’s have some fun. Try defining some words I’ll be giving you in just a moment! But first let me warn you: unless you’re smarter than the average bear, you won’t know the dictionary meanings. (I had to look some of them up myself.)

Here we go: enormity, notoriety, factoid, restive, fulsome, bemused, nonplussed.

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Before I give you the definitions, here’s something to think about. All of these words seem to have clues to their meaning. But in every case the clue will take you down the wrong path.

OK, let’s get started.

Enormity doesn’t have anything to do with size! An enormity is a hideous crime.

Notoriety doesn’t mean “noted.” It means famous for a bad reason.

A factoid isn’t a fact. A factoid is a common notion that people think is true – but it isn’t.

Restive has nothing to do with rest. It means unable to keep still – restless – difficult to control.

Fulsome has nothing to do with fullness. It means excessive flattery.

Bemused has nothing to do with amusement. It means confused or puzzled.

And finally (a word that I struggle with myself!) there’s no “non” idea in nonplussed – at least none that I can see. If you’re nonplussed, you’re surprised, bewildered, or taken aback

…which is exactly what you might be feeling now that you’ve gone through this list!

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Because so many people misunderstand these words, they’re starting to take on the expected (wrong!) meanings. Notoriety is often used to mean “fame,” for example. I just looked at a dictionary that gave “big” as the second meaning of fulsome.

My advice would be not to use any of these words unless the context makes the meaning absolutely clear.

Meanwhile, if you’re intrigued about these words, here’s a link where you can learn more about two of them – bemuse and nonplus. (James Harbeck is an authority on an amazing range of subjects, including words. His Sesquiotica blog is always fun to read!)

A confused smiley face


4 thoughts on “Bemused, Nonplussed, and Bewildered

  1. AvatarsophiechotekJenna

    A great post, although the title made me think of the link from the musical Pal Joey – “Dazed, Dazzled, and Bewildered, no more”…which would have also been appropriate, upon finishing the article!

  2. AvatarDarrell Turner

    Speaking of musical references, the late rapper Notorious B.I.G. apparently considered the term to be a badge of honor. And what shall we say of the recent biography of a Supreme Court justice titled “Notorious RBG”?

  3. Avatarballroomdancer Post author

    I am unhappy about that biography title. We’ve lost a useful word from the English language. We have two words that mean famous – (notorious and famous) and no word meaning “famous for the wrong reason.”
    I hadn’t heard of the Notorious B.I.G.!

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