A NOTE FROM a certain Mr. Smithington, Esq.:
The word “nonplussed” means surprised or confused. An emotional iconograph conveying such an expression would look as such, “:O”. Using the term, “nonplussed” as a neologism referring to one who is unimpressed—as I suppose was the emotion you were attempting to convey with your “emoticon” consisting of merely a colon punctuation mark—is a habit the more vulgar classes are attempting to impose on us and should be discouraged.
With kindest regards,
Our correspondent is quite right in condemning the neologism. Dr. Boli was not aware that anyone was using the term that way until this comment sent him out to do some research on the omniscient Internet. He does not condemn all development in language: he would be sorry to see English limited to the vocabulary and style of Alfred the Great, however laudable his works may be in their own right. But the misuse of “nonplussed” threatens to deprive us of a useful expression for which there is no close equivalent.
The root sense of “nonplussed” is “unable to go further.” It is the utterly puzzling sensation of reaching the limit of one’s leash without having previously known that one was collared. It is different from surprise, which is a kind of shock produced by something marvelous or unexpected, and which would fittingly be represented by an expression of open-mouthed wonder. To be nonplussed is to have the sudden realization that one simply doesn’t know what to think or do about something. It is the blank and despairing feeling that what had up to this moment seemed comprehensible really makes no sense at all.
If he were addicted to the use of emoticons, Dr. Boli would prefer to represent the state of being unimpressed thus: : ¹