Beth Fine

Educational Fiction Author – Serious Thinker – Child at Heart

Meeting “The ‘Nonplussed’ Problem”

An online article called “The ‘Nonplussed’ Problem” by Ben Yagoda peaked my interest like a mountaintop (not piqued so as to anger my audience). Yagoda, a college English professor (probably under the heavy onus to publish… publish …publish) attempted to quantify but not justify the demise of certain words, clichés and syntax. His methodology included (1) testing students in one of his classes on the changes in word meanings; and (2) scoring the Google hits that used old meanings of certain words (e.g. disinterested= impartial).

At first, Yagoda’s subtitle, “How long should we cling to a word’s original meaning?” suggested to me that he had already made a decision and wanted merely to report his findings to confirm his own conclusion (or bias=leaning). Not so at all! He seemed fair to traditional definitions yet non-judgmental to common current uses/misuses that bleed into the daily parlance. I appreciated how he stayed even-handed and open-minded without giving up his love of and loyalty to the English language.

Having also taught college English and prizing my own word pets and peeves, I admit to clinging to traditional meanings and spellings of words. However, I think Yagoda has thrown down a professional gauntlet or at least posed an admirable, yet rather sly dilemma. I’m not sure if he prefers polite academic confrontation without rancor or a Texas knock-down, drag-out with no holds barred. I will attempt the former in my next blog. I find acknowledging opinions different from mine actually helps me to handle ambiguity, see flaws in an argument, but respect a logical presentation of another viewpoint without attacking the person [with whom, hmmm,] I don’t agree with.


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