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And Your Word Can Sing

Today, I'd like to introduce a new feature on Monitor Mix.

It combines two of my favorite things: music and vocabulary. I can't guarantee consistency or regularity with this feature; as with anything on this blog, it's dependent on my vicissitudes.

Basically, I'll pick a word — one I like, one I can't stand people using incorrectly, or one we just don't see enough of in musical contexts — and you can help by picking artists or bands who best embody this word. If nothing else, we might find new ways of describing the music we love or hate. Plus, the only thing worse than a music snob is a music snob who's also supercilious; who uses grandiloquent terms when in fact a pedestrian word would have done the trick. So we'll keep that in mind as we proceed.

Today's word is: "Nonplussed."

I love this word, but nearly everyone I know misuses it. I often hold my tongue when friends use it as a synonym for "ambivalent" or "unenthusiastic." I suppose it's an easy mistake; the word certainly sounds like it should mean "not excited." Well, it doesn't. Nonplussed means confused. Here's "nonplus," according to Merriam-Webster:

Function: noun
Etymology: Latin non plus no more
Date: 1582
Definition: a state of bafflement or perplexity

Function: transitive verb
Inflected form(s): nonplussed, nonplused, nonplussing, nonplusing
Definition: cause to be at a loss as to what to say, think, or do

There are plenty of baffling and perplexing bands out there, wouldn't you agree? But who is the most nonplussing of them all?



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my experience is that most misusages like this occur because the mis-users are not avid readers. most readers of classic english literature, for instance, would not make the mistake with non-plussed that you have described.

Sent by slim moon | 3:59 PM | 8-18-2008

The only time I can think of that I've heard "nonplussed" in lyrics is in The Velvet Teen's amazing epic song "Chimera Obscurant" -

"There is much to be done, and we're right on the cusp / Of this shit getting real, I mean really, really fucked / Every sheep for the shearing waiting around non-plussed / Trading branding irons for brand-name cuts"

Sent by Jamie Hellgate | 4:26 PM | 8-18-2008

Devendra Banhart's music puzzles me. What's it all about? Or perhaps that's the point.

Sent by Paul | 4:36 PM | 8-18-2008


hands down. I love them so, though.

Sent by joe | 4:50 PM | 8-18-2008

Animal Collective's album "Strawberry Jam". I don't know what it is about that album but it's I find it hard to get into. Maybe it's just that I'm not in the right state of mind.

Sent by Scott | 5:11 PM | 8-18-2008

Spinal Tap.

Sent by Joel Richardson | 5:53 PM | 8-18-2008

math rock in general.

Sent by esme | 6:45 PM | 8-18-2008


Sent by ld | 7:09 PM | 8-18-2008

Strange noise bands like Health and Liars...I don't really get them.

Sent by w.k. | 7:12 PM | 8-18-2008

Nickelback's success is pretty nonplussing.

Sent by hmd1987 | 7:24 PM | 8-18-2008

I'm not sure my nonplussedness is in relation to bands, or critics (professional and otherwise) who sing the praises of a band and I fail to see their charms. Best recent example: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

Just don't get the love.

Sent by Tim F. | 7:50 PM | 8-18-2008

I would say alot of deerhoof songs are written/played in that "nonplussed" vein - like Frenzied Handsome Hello!

Sent by 1234 | 8:51 PM | 8-18-2008

I definitely appreciate your turn toward the sesquipedalian. Now, are we looking for bands that make us nonplussed? Or bands that we feel *are* nonplussed? Either way, Xiu Xiu.

Sent by finnigan | 9:33 PM | 8-18-2008

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band. Baffling and perplexing in a good way.

Sent by bryan | 9:55 PM | 8-18-2008

baffling: dissociatives, e.g. lifting the veil from the braille
perplexing: john frusciante's solo stuff
nonplussed: chan marshall

Sent by Mark | 10:01 PM | 8-18-2008

Why does the musical answer always have to be a 'band'. Let's leave last century for this one - new century, new music, new music forms, new everything.

Sent by Tom Hendricks | 11:44 PM | 8-18-2008

i am more perplexed by the success of some bands rather than the music itself.

Sent by ryan | 11:57 PM | 8-18-2008


Sent by leah | 12:46 AM | 8-19-2008

animal collective, and their fans

Sent by carla | 12:56 AM | 8-19-2008

The La's are nonplussing.

Put out one "as close as you can get to perfection" pop album, complain about the production, get full control over your next album to do it your own way, then fixate on recording lo-fi DYI versions of the songs you already recoreded and never put another album out.

I like the fact that they have one amazing album and left it at that, sort of, but its still puzzling as to how they never seemed to put out anything else.

Although it must be nice to live off the royalties of "There She Goes."

Sent by Mac Coldwell | 7:58 AM | 8-19-2008

from a strictly musical standpoint maybe Nautical Almanac is the best example, the structure is extremely freeform, where as many other noise acts like Wolf Eyes are actually quite tightly composed

Sent by Patrick | 8:19 AM | 8-19-2008

Van Der Graff Generator

and more currently, Fiery Furnaces.

Sent by Brian A. | 8:48 AM | 8-19-2008

After listening to a few of his albums and seeing "The Proposition" twice, I'm feeling a little nonplussed regarding Nick Cave's relative lack of success at becoming overwhelmingly popular and frequently permeating the public consciousness.

Sent by Ryan | 9:07 AM | 8-19-2008

Deerhoof. But in a good way. If you only played "My Pal Foot Foot" for someone, they will surely be nonplussed.

Sent by NMB | 10:21 AM | 8-19-2008

I think it is interesting that everyone here has mentioned bands that they "don't get" in a negative way.

What about bands that leave us baffled or perplexed that we enjoy. Anyone who has written a review knows that sometimes the hardest things to write about are things that you love.

Personally, I feel that way about "Kala" by M.I.A. Have you ever tried to explain what that album sounds like or about to someone who has never heard it? It will definitely leave you searching for words. The same goes for the LP "Deep Cuts" by The Knife.

Both leave me sort of leave me searching for it is that keeps me returning to them but I can never really put my finger on it. Sometimes I feel like such albums which leave nonplussed are the best ones I own.

Sent by saxon | 10:27 AM | 8-19-2008

"Plus, the only thing worse than a music snob is a music snob who's also supercilious; who uses grandiloquent terms when in fact a pedestrian word would have done the trick." Ms. Brownstein, you will NEVER cease to crack me up. :)

That said...I think Elvis Costello might fit into your definition. But he's an artist I actually enjoy. Bands I've never "gotten" (that you could say left me...nonplussed) include Bloc Party and Sonic Youth. Those are two I can think of right off the top of my head.

Sent by Alberto Santillan | 10:45 AM | 8-19-2008


Course its been 5 years now since I saw them open up for the White Stripes... but I was very nonplussed after hearing/listening to them... Then I got home, and found out, that all the songs they played that night, were simply named colors, orange, yellow, green, black, and the two songs i liked the most from that night, Pink and Purple...

The Video for Purple sure doesnt make me any less nonplussed...

Nonplussed seems like a word you would see in a foreign film, where the person doing the subtitles needs a word in english, so they get out the translation book and look up their Chinese, French, Russian word, and come back with a word we wouldnt use in everyday English... a word I tend to notice alot in Chinese films, that even my friend whos a writer never heard before, Unfillial...

I hope tonight, EdVed doesnt have too much to drink, making me nonplussed during one of his ramblings...

Sent by Kramer | 11:17 AM | 8-19-2008

I find the Breeders' latest album, Mountain Battles, pretty nonplussing. Particularly the title track. The album has songs in German and Spanish and a cover of an unknown Dayton band.

I love the Breeders, but that album was kind of erratic.

Sent by FG | 11:22 AM | 8-19-2008

The Fiery Furnaces leave me completely nonplussed. Also, their music makes me contemplate sticking knitting needles in my ears. Sitting through one of their shows live was very nearly the end of me. So I suppose that insofar as they clearly drive me nuts, perhaps it's not the Fiery Furnaces who leave me nonplussed, but their fans. I am at a loss to explain how they maintain such fervid followers.

Sent by Nick | 11:24 AM | 8-19-2008

My former roommate (a Shakespeare enthusiast) used to call me out for misusing 'nonplussed', so this post hits close to home.

Some artists that make me truly nonplussed are the perverse and often baffling Of Montreal, Xiu Xiu, and CocoRosie. I just don't get Music-as-Statement-Art bands.

Sent by David W. | 11:33 AM | 8-19-2008

Sparks. Do I love them or hate them? If I hate them then why do I listen to them? If I love them then why do they make me so uncofortable sometimes?!?!

Sent by Ryan A. | 12:06 PM | 8-19-2008

I immediately thought Pedro the Lion. Then you went and re-defined nonplussed on me! :)

The crazy syncopations and fits and starts of Ani DiFranco seem a little nonplussed to me... Not that that's a bad thing.

Sent by mike l | 12:22 PM | 8-19-2008

I've been misusing that word for years, and I guess now I'm nonplussed that no one told me!!!

I'm nonplussed by most if not all modern country music. Big & Rich? Seriously???

Sent by Jason | 12:31 PM | 8-19-2008

I prefer the expression "WTF," as in "WTF" that new My Morning Jacket album. But nonplussing is pretty good too.

Sent by AguaLinda | 12:46 PM | 8-19-2008

I've always been a bit baffled by Robyn Hitchcock. I saw him on a program on the Sundance channel, and I came away less baffled and only slightly impressed.

On a personal note, I think I leave some people nonplussed. People get hung up on consistency, and sometimes I just can't face that.

Sent by jho | 12:56 PM | 8-19-2008

Mine would be Arcade Fire and Mercury Rev, I really, really don't get what all the fuss is about.

Sent by Julia | 1:39 PM | 8-19-2008

sun city girls.

nurse with wound.


all in a good way, of course.

Sent by paulb | 1:49 PM | 8-19-2008

The National. I am nonplussed as to how everyone likes them. They bore me to no end.

Sent by Nick L. | 3:21 PM | 8-19-2008

"indie rock" fans. don't people realize that half the crap out there is this generation's version hair metal? there's a look, a sound and a scene.

Sent by Erik | 3:41 PM | 8-19-2008

Cake. What's up with that band? I will never understand... Also, Cia, Kate Nash and Lily Allen?? It's not that I absolutley it, but I cringe and tend to turn the station immmediately! Go figure.

Sent by Jess | 3:45 PM | 8-19-2008

I'm nonplussed by TV on the Radio.

I wanna get it. But I don't get it.

Sent by smitty | 4:41 PM | 8-19-2008

Last time a record really took me by suprise was Nuno Canavarro's "PLUX QUBA". It sounds behind and ahead of it's time all at once.

As for disgust? Whenever I play a show with a band .. no-one comes... then they get the right press and all of a sudden their shows all sell out.

As for fan hate..
The whole Dan Deacon "chicken dance" is disappointing. And Top 40 mashups of
Girl Talk make me realize counter-culture is dead.

When did irony get so bad that it became standard to like your little sisters music. Timbaland? ugh..

sorry ... end rant.

Sent by daniel | 5:10 PM | 8-19-2008

I think a lot of folks have missed Carrie's point here. Nonplussed doesn't me "baffled at the popularity of." Just baffled BY something. Think of it as being roughly equivalent to being all "huh? WTF?!" about something, if that helps.

I love the feeling I get when something shortcircuits my brain like that. Whether intentionally or otherwise. Example: the songs of David Liebe Hart.

Sent by m-argo | 5:24 PM | 8-19-2008

Genre wise, no-wave (Read:Two Ton Boa). It's baffling how a genre I generally shy away from has one singer that pulls me into it.

Sent by Jack | 6:36 PM | 8-19-2008

A lot of noise music. And drone stuff too.

Sent by Jaime | 7:03 PM | 8-19-2008

I hate it when people misuse that word too. One time I corrected a Sports Illustrated writer who used it the wrong way to describe then-Jets QB Chad Pennington. He wrote back to tell me he changed the article on the website and I considered it a minor victory.

The other misused word that drives me absolutely insane is "penultimate." It's NOT a more flowery way of saying ultimate. It means second to last.

The musical entity that leaves me nonplussed is Captain Beefheart. I'm sure he's great, but he's got too many records, his fans scare me and Trout Mask Replica gives me a headache.

Sent by Rick | 7:13 PM | 8-19-2008

While we're at it, enervate doesn't mean "energize." It means the opposite.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sent by M-Argo | 7:56 PM | 8-19-2008

Vampire Weekend. The whole thing. The boat shoes. The hype. Oh wait, maybe I'm nonplussed.

Sent by S. | 8:27 PM | 8-19-2008

i totally just misused the word nonplussed only moments ago. my girlfriend demanded that i read your blog this instant!

and i never use that word. thanks for the tip.

Sent by brittany | 1:18 AM | 8-20-2008

sleater kinney

Sent by horacio | 6:18 AM | 8-20-2008

Although I have yet to hear it in a song, I cannot stand the word "pre-owned". Will my "pre-owned" car perform better and look prettier than my "used" car?

Sent by ceruleanblue | 8:34 AM | 8-20-2008

Well this combines three of my favorite things: music, vocabulary and your blog.

A band that leaves me nonplussed is the Dandy Warhols.

Sent by Sam | 8:59 AM | 8-20-2008

Nonplussed in a good way:
Zappa's We're Only In It For The Money
El-P's Fantastic Damage
Lightning Bolt
Lords of Acid
The Disintegration Loops

Nonplussed in a bad way:
I hate to put a genre in here, but a lot of jazz fits this description for me.
Lords of Acid

I also remember the New Pornographers being nonplussing the first time I heard them, but now its all love.

Sent by Bink | 11:04 AM | 8-20-2008

Minus the Bear???? What's more nonplus then a minus.

Sent by Joel from Charm City | 1:14 PM | 8-20-2008

Sonic Youth, for sure have always left me nonplussed. I never got them on record, and everyone I knew at the time told me to see them live, so I did, in the early mid-90's and I was still very confused as to what the up roar was about.

Sent by Josh | 2:19 PM | 8-20-2008

Fiery Furnaces

Sent by George | 2:26 PM | 8-20-2008

I am nonplussed how fast Ted Leo can spit out lyrics while playing the guitar at lightening speed simultaneously. He a freak! (In the best way)

Sent by Jess | 3:02 PM | 8-20-2008

I agree with whoever wrote Xiu Xiu. What's *up* with them??

Sent by Gretchen | 3:27 PM | 8-20-2008

Oh, god, I love that Whirlwind Heat album ("Do Rabbits Wonder?"). I guess it leaves me feeling, um, plussed?

Sent by Rachel | 3:54 PM | 8-20-2008

The Residents. Totally deliberately. And in a good way.

Sent by CJ | 4:42 PM | 8-20-2008

I must say...
Eddie didnt once make me nonplussed
but the idiots who kept yelling out, after Ed told them over and over SHUT UP PLEASE... now they made me very nonplussed, And I actually thought of this word as the concert was going on... and what an odd musical connection it was... me sitting 10 rows back at an Eddie Vedder concert, wearing a "Show Me Your Riffs" Sleater-Kinney show... drifting off thinking about a word one guitar player from Sleater-Kinney had just introduced into my Vocab not 8 hours prior... so yes, I was very nonplussed towards the idiots in the crowd...

Sent by Kramer | 7:35 PM | 8-20-2008

nancy & lee (1967). the entire album is full of confusing and weird moments. their rendition of 'you've lost that loving feeling' always makes me laugh... and cry (though i'm not sure why). and for that matter, most lee hazlewood leaves me nonplussed... think of his equally bizarre recording moments with ann-margret. wow.

Sent by lauri t. | 10:43 AM | 8-21-2008

To the person who said CAKE, come on. They are just a tongue in cheek alt-rock band who had some hits in the 90's and are still touring today. Their version of Gaynor's 'I Will Survive' is awesome and I would be nonplussed if it didn't make you get up and dance. I agree with the other artists, Katy Perry but Lily Allen, well that song was catchy in a nonplussed way.

I'm definitely nonplussed by the machinery of American/Canadian Idol and the fact that famous musicians license their beloved music to these teen hacks to sing glorified karaoke to. I know it's considered mass exposure but does Tom Jones or Celine Dion really need more exposure?

Sent by Darcy | 11:28 AM | 8-21-2008

Either Animal Collective or Vampire Weekend. I'm nonplussed as to how people don't recognize the first as annoying and the latter as completely boring.

Sent by Peter | 2:53 PM | 8-21-2008

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned John Cage, he of the (in)famous 4'33" (wherein musicians sit in silence for that length of time), and one of the great musical philosophers of the 20th century. For an example of a performance where the audience moves from utter confusion to delight to (perhaps) sublimity, it's hard to beat this clip of Cage performing "Water Works" on "What's my Line", a game show from the 1950s.

Sent by Michael | 3:27 PM | 8-21-2008

I think this discussion was inspired by Kissing Jessica Stein (exact same conversation happened in the movie--just an observation).

Sent by Kris | 5:08 PM | 8-21-2008

I flinch a little when people mispronounce "lambasted" mostly because it reminds me of a time long ago when my friend and I were driving in a car with an older journalist we admired and were friendly with. My friend said "lambasted" incorrectly and he told her she was a moron but with the use of about seven profanities.

I learned the correct pronunciation lickity split. The art of tough love. I still fear that guy's judgement.

He's probably reading this.

Sent by Gina V | 7:30 PM | 8-21-2008

For me it would be Ryan Adams. Not because I am nonplussed by his music, but because he's a nonplussed artist. I've never heard anyone with so much talent who is unable to keep it together enough to put out a really classic album. I love Ryan Adams. I've bought everything he has released (even Demolition and 29). I don't think there is one album that he has done that will stand in the pantheon of rock like Blood On the Tracks, or What's Going On. I believe he could do it if he wasn't so self-destructive, and of course nonplussed. I have friends that chastise me for my RA hating, but I just would like to hear him reach his full potential. It's still possible.

Sent by Melvillain | 1:54 PM | 8-23-2008

In no particular order:

radio stations without djs
smooth jazz radio
classic rock radio
aaa radio
positive alternative radio

**Basically mersh radio stations playing the same pablum over and over again.

Sent by hang the dj | 10:32 PM | 8-23-2008

Speaking of using words incorrectly, here's what hiatus means:

"a pause or gap in a sequence, series, or process," which suggests that there will be action in the future.

Sent by Anjanette | 5:45 PM | 9-24-2008