Sign up ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

OED defines them as:

nonchalant adjective (of a person or manner) feeling or appearing casually calm and relaxed; not displaying anxiety, interest, or enthusiasm

insouciant adjective showing a casual lack of concern; indifferent

blithe adjective showing a casual and cheerful indifference considered to be callous or improper: a blithe disregard for the rules of the road; happy or joyous: a blithe seaside comedy

So, what would be the difference between say, "a nonchalant shrug" and "an insouciant shrug"?

Also, what context are these words used in the following sentence:

"I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance." Ogden Nash, poet (Hard Lines, 1931)

Also, what does 'nouciance' mean? Is it simply a play on words?

Last, but most important, what word would best fit the following situation:

He was (nonchalant/insouciant/blithe) about the poor living conditions of the animals in his farm.

share|improve this question
I'd stick with indifferent, but use the correctly paired preposition / particle: He was indifferent to the poor living conditions of the animals in his farm. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 31 '13 at 15:22
Insouciant sounds a little more negative to me than nonchalant. For your last question, it depends on what nuance you want; the first two are fine. 'Blithe' sounds funny in that construction like that to me: 'X is blithe' is uncommon I think, but 'blithely' more common...this calls for an nGram!! – Mitch Mar 31 '13 at 19:54

2 Answers 2

It is play on words, and in several ways.

  • First, he’s combining the two words nonchalance and insouciance into *nouciance, which is really just an unusual spelling of what is supposed to recall nuisance.

  • Second, he’s chosen these two French imports because they are negatives that have no corresponding positive forms in English, meaning that there is no *chalance to pair with nonchalant nor any *souciance to pair with insouciance.

share|improve this answer
Do you have any answer to the difference between the two themselves? – Thor Apr 1 '13 at 6:01

One - Ogden Nash, master of letters as he was, was being clever & deliberately rhyming insouciance with nuisance (nouciance). Two - I've personally battled with split differentials re insouciance and nonchalance myself in a couple of my books (this name is one of my many pseudonyms) and I found that using nonchalance best described ambivalence in decision making and insouciance was more of a care-free attitude adapted in general life. I realise this is my own interpretation but it's one I discussed with my publisher and I ended up bringing her around (she was far from nonchalant in accepting my insouciant manuscripts.) Hope this helps

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.