These Words May Simply Baffle You

There is something singularly satisfying about looking up words in a thesaurus, especially when you land on a list as evocative as the synonyms for "baffled."

Take a look at this list, and remember to savor the sounds of these words as you roll them around in your mouth: puzzled, nonplused, discombobulated, flummoxed, stumped, fogged, wildered, buffaloed.

They are, as author Sally Allen writes in her recent book "Choosing the Right Word: A Writer's Guide to Synonyms," delectable. And what a delight it was for her to discover them.

"I had long been a fan of the word 'baffled,' ​​​​both for its sound and for the idea of being confused in a way that involved having one's thoughts or actions disrupted," she writes. "When I finally looked up the word in the thesaurus, I was ​delighted ​to find so many wonderful synonyms."

Looking at this list, you'll notice there is subtle distinction between being puzzled, nonplused, or discombobulated. But you can also see a progression in the level of confusion or frustration.

Puzzled is a mild feeling, as is nonplused. Things get a little more chaotic when you're discombobulated, and seriously out of sorts when you're flummoxed. Stumped and fogged have a certain similarity, suggesting a certain density of confusion, the former perhaps more temporary than the latter.

The last two, wildered and buffaloed, feel a bit more outdated, but also evoke a particular sentiment. As Allen writes in her book, "When I encounter 'wildered,' I can't help but smile at the image of someone wandering aimlessly, totally confused."

She also notes that the animal reference in buffaloed is helpful: "I picture a herd of buffalo charging toward me and getting confused when they reach a sharp left turn at the end of a road."

Words reference or evoke other ideas, images, or feelings, and that's part of what makes them exciting to play with. And in the case of these words, there's also a pleasing symmetry to their sounds, something about their rhythm and structure that feels just right. Consider, for comparison, a list of synonyms for a word like, say, "sad": blue, unhappy, down, depressed, glum, gloomy, dejected.

There's little sonic flair in those words. They get the job done, but there's not the same delightful playfulness, the same funnery (not a word, but perhaps it should be).

So next time you're perplexed, try to figure out just how perplexed you are, and see if one of these words doesn't come in handy. And if you're feeling particularly poetic, you could even string a few of these together to describe your own particular brand of confusion: "The questions left them flummoxed and discombobulated, their thoughts foggy and their steps wildered."

In a world where we sometimes take refuge in simplicity and ease of expression, it's ​essential to appreciate words that excel at describing feelings and experiences in vivid detail. And it's worth celebrating words that achieve this in such a pleasing way.

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