Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures


Let’s ban “nonplussed”

bannedLook, I love words a lot — look at my etymology tag for proof! — but what I like about them on a basic level is that they help us humans communicate with each other. If I say “cat” we’re on the same page of what I am talking about and that is good.

But this is no longer the case with “nonplussed” and I think we should all agree to stop using it because it’s totally confusing.

The definition of nonplussed is “surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react.” Due to its negative prefix (“non-“) it has more recently been used to mean the exact opposite, i.e. “unsurprised.” My beef with the word (’cause we’ve totally got beef now) is that it’s hard to know if or when people are using it correctly and this total lack of clarity is the opposite of good communication (which is what I am all about).

As a comparison point, the annoying habit people have picked up of using “literally” when they mean “figuratively” is dumb, lazy and incorrect, but it’s obvious that when someone says, “I literally died of embarrassment” that they aren’t actually dead and were, instead, severely shamed in public.

Two podcast interviews I heard recently brought this to my attention. One was with Kevin Spacey, who was described on the BBC’s Film Programme as “nonplussed” when posed a question, and it left me baffled. Spacey has such a smug, sarcastic speech pattern anyway that it was hard to tell just by listening if he was really shocked, just faking it, or if the interviewer was being ironic. The second was with Noah Hawley, the writer of FX’s very enjoyable FARGO TV show, who I am fairly certain used the word completely wrong. (The context was that Midwesterners are “nonplussed” by the harshness of the winters, which they’re totally not.) This confusion on Hawley’s part led to me being disappointed as I thought the show was generally well done but am now troubled that a professional writer doesn’t have a grasp on the language he’s working in.

So, out with nonplussed. Let’s just get rid of it. Literally.

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Updates on stuff I’ve written and your comments.

Citymapper Paris→ The CityMapper app I raved about has added Paris! Everything’s coming up Milhouse in 2014! You can get it here!

→ Even though I am of the female persuasion, my feelings about stuff like Title IX and gender diversity on company boards are at odds. When dealing with historical figures and their cultural importance, I have even more uncomfortable feelings because I do think it’s important to recognize the roles that people played in making the world what it is today… but I don’t like the idea of digging people up and burying them somewhere else just to make a political point. This is something that’s being suggested at the Panthéon here in Paris, which I wrote about a while back, specifically citing that I liked the male-centric wording of the engraving over the entrance. (To be totally clear, partly what I liked about the sentiment is its Lady-doth-protest-too-much exceptionalism about French men.)

→ Speaking of exceptionalism, I wrote about the American kind ages ago and “The Atlantic” reports that its era is over. What’s the opposite of chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!”? “Boo-hoo for us”?

→ An alternate take on purging is to buy better quality things. I used to do this regularly, but since I’ve been living out of suitcases for over eight years, I realized that buying excellent new versions of stuff I already owned was foolish. Hence, lots of repeat crap. Kelly’s point about French women is true though — all the closets I’ve seen personally have very little clothes in them but those things tend to be très nice and more expensive.

→ Some dude picked a fight with me over on Suzanne and Pierre’s blog about, get this, SPAIN. At least he shut up once he realized that, in addition to not getting involved in a land war in Asia or going against a Sicilian when death is on the line, challenging me when I talk shit about Spaniards is a classic blunder which is best avoided.

→ I am not crazy. This is a thing which bears repeating, if only in a low voice to myself. My love of The Great Brain book series is apparently a *totally normal* thing. It’s so within the realm of not extraordinary things that Brian Koppelman is comfortable making an off-hand reference to one of the characters in the books and Seth Myers just goes with it, apparently knowing that being compared to the Brain’s little brother is an epic insult.

Labyrinth_Worm→ I got into a LABYRINTH appreciation party over on “Bread is Pain” and then a stupid BuzzFeed quiz* proved that I am, in fact, the Worm.  I *am* generally good about giving directions (except when I’m not).

*Is this redundant? Is there any kind of BuzzFeed quiz that *isn’t* stupid?