February 18, 2019

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Have You Ever Been Plussed?

Recently, I came to consider the potential ambiguity in the word "nonplussed".  The word originally meant to be confused or perplexed, as in:

"Defense counsel, undoubtedly nonplussed, attempted to challenge the unexpected identification by asking, 'Now, you told me a few minutes ago when I talked to you that this looked like the man but it wasn't the man?'"

People v. Jackson, 187 Cal. App. 3d 499, 508, 231 Cal. Rptr. 889, 895 (1986).  This meaning is consistent with the word's etymology.  It is a combination of the Latin words, non plus, meaning nothing more.  Someone is perplexed when they can think of nothing more to do or say.

Some courts, however, use the word to mean unperturbed, as in:

"The gun jammed. Nonplussed, he herded his companions back into the car and the three men continued their meanderings."

United States v. Bradshaw, 281 F.3d 278, 281 (2002).  Undoubtedly, courts deploying the word in this manner assume that "plus" must mean perturbed and therefore a nonplussed person is not perturbed.  

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About this Author

Keith Paul Bishop, Corporate Transactions Lawyer, finance securities attorney, Allen Matkins Law Firm

Keith Paul Bishop is a partner in Allen Matkins' Corporate and Securities practice group, and works out of the Orange County office. He represents clients in a wide range of corporate transactions, including public and private securities offerings of debt and equity, mergers and acquisitions, proxy contests and tender offers, corporate governance matters and federal and state securities laws (including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the Dodd-Frank Act), investment adviser, financial services regulation, and California administrative law. He regularly advises clients...