How to expand your vocabulary.
From time to time, we all find ourselves unable to understand things, whether it’s instructions for a piece of equipment that confuse us, an event or situation that we can’t explain or just a comment by a friend. Life is sometimes just confusing! This is reflected in the number of near-synonyms and phrases that describe being confused and things that confuse us. This week we thought we would take a look at them.
Let’s start with some common near-synonyms for ‘confused’. Perplexed is one: Her speech left some of the audience looking perplexed. Puzzled is another. Like perplexed, it means ‘confused because you do not understand something’: He had a puzzled look on his face. / I’m a bit puzzled as to why she did that. The adjectives perplexing and puzzling are used too, describing things that we do not understand: I find their attitude quite perplexing. / In some ways, it’s a puzzling novel.
The word baffled is somewhat stronger, describing how we feel when we are completely unable to understand or explain something, and often surprised by it too: Drivers were left baffled in Lancashire after seeing a mountain of apples at the roadside. The –ing adjective baffling is used too to describe the thing that you are unable to understand: Why would anyone do such a strange thing? It’s baffling, isn’t it?
Bewildered is another near-synonym of ‘confused’ but this time with the additional meaning of ‘not knowing what to do’: Elderly patients, looking bewildered, try to catch the doctor’s attention. The adjective bewildering is also used, sometimes before nouns such as ‘range’ and ‘array’ (= large group of things). A ‘bewildering range’ or ‘array’ is a group of things so large that you do not know which to choose: I had before me a bewildering array of options.
Two other ‘confused’ adjectives with additional meanings are dazed and disoriented. Someone who is dazed is unable to think clearly because they are extremely tired or shocked after an accident or bad news, etc.: He had a dazed expression and was unresponsive. Disoriented, meanwhile, means ‘confused about where you are and where you are going’: Whales can become disoriented in shallow water.
Turning now to phrases in this area, if something that is said or written doesn’t make sense, it cannot be understood: This line doesn’t make any sense. If you can’t make sense of something confusing, you can’t understand it: I’ve read the instructions three times and I still can’t make sense of them! If you are at a loss to do something, you are completely confused and do not know what to do or say: I’m at a loss to explain what has happened. Finally, if you are at sea or all at sea, you are confused and do not know what to do: No one has explained the new system to me and I’m all at sea.