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PERPLEXITY, INDECISION AND CONFUSION



Perplexity is colloquially expressed by these phrases: to be (feel) (all) at sea. This phrase is applied to a person confused, puzzled, not knowing how to act or in uncertainty of mind.

He was all at sea when he began his new job (A. H.)

She felt, indeed, completely at sea as to what really moved the mind of the authority. (J. G.) . "Everything's simply perfect at his stud farm. Luckily I really am frightfully keen about horses. I didn't feel at sea with Mr. Muskham." (J. G.)

To be at one's wits' end is to be greatly perplexed, not to know what to do or say (in an emergency). This phrase registers complete perplexity with regard to action.

The car broke down on our way to Edinburgh. I could not find the defect, though I tried my hardest and soon I was at my wits' end. (K. H.) "Hard up, are you?"


"My dear Hastings, I don't mind telling you that I'm at my wits' end for money." (A. Chr.) Now she was breathing rather quickly, yet spoke slowly: "Mrs. Howels was at her wits' end." (A. C.)

But in that flash was seen the other Carrie — poor, hungry, drifting at her wits' end. (Th. D.)

To be at a lossis to be puzzled and perplexed, to be in un­certainty or unable to decide. This phrase is often modified by various adverbs of degree and frequency.

He is never at a loss for an effective moral attitude (B. S.)

Freddie revived himself quickly. He was seldom at a loss, and never for any length of time. (A. C.) "My dear Louisa. My poor daughter." He was so much at a loss at that place, that he stopped al­together. (Ch. D.)

You know, Venetia, you have a mind like a man. You're never at a loss. (S. M.) For once she seemed at a loss. (A. Chr.) The two men on either side of her were momenta­rily at a loss. (A. Chr.)

He was completely at a loss as to what step to take next... . (A. C.)

The doctor was for once slightly at a loss. (A. C.) "But do you know, " he asked quite at a loss, "the extent of what you ask?" (Ch. D.)

to be in a maze— to be in a state of confusion or bewil­derment

I was in a maze when I received the news. (K. H.)

The perplexitycaused by ambiguous behaviour finds an outlet in these questions: What's he up to? What's he after? What's his (little) game?

"What's Dondolo been up to?" asked Tolachian trying to get the drift of what was on the other two men's minds.


"What's he been up to?" said Bing "His old tricks "

(S. H.)

"What have you been up to? Where have you

been?" he repeated. (A. C.)

"What are you after?" said Smithers in a noisy

whisper and with a detective eye on the papers... .

"Oh, — nothing, " said Lewisham blandly, with

his hand falling casually over his memoranda.

"What's your particular little game?" (H. W.)

Perplexity and indecisionalso use these phrases:

to be in a quandary— to be in a perplexing situation or in

a dilemma

The weather was so changeable that I was in a quandary what things to take with me. Escaping the last drive, Dinny walked home by herself. Her sense of humour was tickled, but she was in a quandary. (J. G.)

When Hurstwood. got back to his office again he was in greater quandary than ever. (Th. D.)

To be in a dilemmaor to be caught (put) on the horns of the dilemmais colloquial for to be faced with a difficult choice (and hence to be perplexed). Also: to put (place) someone in a dilemma.

Dawson-Hill was in a dilemma. He was too shrewd a man, too good a lawyer, not to have seen the crisis coming. (C. S.)

George found himself in a fix last week. He had promised to go to his friend Arthur's engagement party on Friday, Then the Managing Director invited him to dinner the same evening, and this put George on the horns of a dilemma, either he must disappoint his old friend or he must risk offending the great man. (M. E. M.) With a strong mental effort Sir Lawrence tried to place himself in a like dilemma. (J. G.) The direct question placed Andrew in a dilemma (A. C.)

To fall between two stoolsis to fail through hesitating be­tween two courses of action, to lose an opportunity through


inability to decide between two alternatives. So as the

proverb puts it:

Between two stools you fall to the ground.(A person who

cannot decide which of two courses to follow or who tries

to follow two courses at the same time may fail to follow

either.)

"So how it's to go on I don't know. Lawrence doesn't save a penny."

We're falling between two stools, Em; and one fine day we shall reach the floor with a bump " (J. G.)

He tried to keep in with the two opponents, but - he fell between two stools. (K. H.)

to be in two (twenty) minds— to be undecided; to hesitate

"When I saw you last, " he said, "I was in two minds. We talked and you expressed your opin­ion." (J. G.)

She was in two minds whether to speak of the feeling Corven's face had roused in her. (J. G.) I'm still in two minds about his proposals. (K.. H.) I was in twenty minds whether to go or stay.

The following proverb warns us of danger of hesitation: He who hesitates is lost.(Hesitation causes one to lose one's chances.)

not to know one's (own) mind— to be undecided; to be full of doubt and hesitation

"I don't hold with a man marrying till he knows

his own mind, " she went on. "And a man doesn't

know his own mind till he's thirty or thirty-five."

(S. M.)

Mother, how changeable you are! You don't

seem to know your own mind for a single moment.

(O. W.)

You are trifling with me, sir. You said that you

did not know your own mind before. (B. Sh.)

If you're undecided as to how some important problem should be solved, it's better to sleep on (over) it (i. e. wait till to-morrow before taking any important decision.


After a night's sleep and calm thought your decision is likely to be a wise one — wiser than if you decide hur­riedly.)

I don't feel able to come down finally one way or the other until I've slept on it. (C. S.)

"I'm obliged to tell you, " said Brown, "that I'm astonished to hear the bare suggestion. Ail I can hope is that when you've slept on it you will realize how unforgivable all of us here would judge any such action to be." (C. S.) I told him I would give her a shake-down here, last night, in order that he might sleep on it before he decided to let her have any association with Louisa. (Ch. D.)

When I'm in a jam about something, I always like to sleep on it before I come to a decision (M. E. M.)

Indecision sometimes finds expression in Yes and No.

Gus had saved her. Did she wish he hadn't? No and yes. (V. L.)

"Did you mind him doing that?" Jane took a moment to answer. "Well, yes and no." (W. B.)

to shilly-shally— to be unable to make up one's mind; to be undecided

He's a weak man and he shilly-shallied. (S. M.)

This shilly-shallying with the question is absurd.

(O. W.)

My dear, it's no good shilly-shallying. We can't

go on like this. (S. M.)

That's not quite fair, " said Brown steadily, "but

I don't want to shilly-shally." (C. S.)

Some common phrases to express confusionare:

a) confusion of action

not to know which way to turn— to be confused and not

to know how to act or what to do (or say)

It's not too much trouble, mother. I'll tell you tonight, " I said not knowing which way to turn. (C. S.)


Oh, this is awful — I don't know what to do nor which way to turn! (M. T.)



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