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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.

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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

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.

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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

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