I’m nonnonplussed

You may have seen some of this AP story about Sarah Palin. When I read this part,

In an interview with the CBS news magazine “60 Minutes,” Steve Schmidt described Palin as “very calm — nonplussed” after McCain met with her at his Arizona ranch just before putting her on the Republican ticket.

I had that weird feeling I sometimes get when I realize I’ve made some horrible, embarrassing mistake. Is nonplussed a synonym for calm? Have I had it exactly wrong my whole life? Have I used it that way in front of people who know better?

I opened the Dictionary program on my Mac, the definitions in which are taken from the New Oxford American Dictionary, and went to the entry for nonplussed. It said, basically, that it means surprised, which is what I thought. Then, below the definition, was this:

USAGE In standard use, nonplussed means ‘surprised and confused’: : the hostility of the new neighbor’s refusal left Mrs. Walker nonplussed. In North American English, a new use has developed in recent years, meaning ‘unperturbed’—more or less the opposite of its traditional meaning: : hoping to disguise his confusion, he tried to appear nonplussed. This new use probably arose on the assumption that non- was the normal negative prefix and must therefore have a negative meaning. Although the use is common, it is not yet considered standard. The preferred spelling is nonplussed.

In other words, Americans (and maybe even Canadians?!) have become such dumbasses that we use words that mean the opposite of what we think. And Steve Schmidt, like all Republicans, is a Great American.