Is there any difference between 'baffling' and 'perplexing'? I'm especially interested in connotative aspect. Thanks in advance!

  • They're close to the same, but perplexing is a little fancy for everyday speech. – Yosef Baskin Jun 13 '17 at 17:01
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    Maybe I'm wrong, and it may not always hold up, but generally I get the following connotation difference: Perplexing you're continuing to think about it to try and figure it out. Baffling, its so absurd you don't even want to think about it anymore. – developerwjk Jun 13 '17 at 17:03
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    They are mostly the same, but... Oxford defines baffling as "Impossible to understand; perplexing." It defines perplexing as "Completely baffling; very puzzling." To me, perplexing is more puzzling -- you're still figuring it out -- while baffling has you stymied. Baffling means impossible to figure out; perplexing means it's a puzzle, but you can figure it out. – Roger Sinasohn Jun 13 '17 at 17:15
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    Here's a Google NGram link from which you can read through actual uses and make your own decisions. books.google.com/ngrams/… – Xanne Jun 13 '17 at 18:52

To me, 'perplexing' is something that describes a situation for Sherlock Holmes, i.e., something that a smart person can figure out; while 'baffling' is nearly impossible to understand, nevermind figure out, regardless of the intelligence of the addressee, i.e. to whom it is either perplexing or baffling.


Perplexing is more at 'involved' and 'complex'. From the Latin plectere "to twine, braid, fold". 1

Baffling was used by 18c. sailor's to describe winds that blow variously and make headway difficult. To say that something is baffling is to imply that there is no clear direction to look for a solution. 2

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    I think this answer gets to the root of it(using roots ;) ) . Something involved and complex invites more interaction, and attempts to unwind... which many people find as "engrossing". Being "baffled" is more used for as this answer describes where a complicated situation makes person get stopped in their efforts. (making no headway etc) – Tom22 Jun 13 '17 at 18:04
  • @Tom22 Thank you. The other commentators were on the right track. – MikeJRamsey56 Jun 13 '17 at 18:13

When you say you're perplexed, there is less emotion than if you say you're baffled. Thus, if you are writing emails and letters where a neutral tone is helpful, perplexed would be a better choice than baffled. Baffled has a higher histrionic tone.

Same thing with baffling and perplexing. Perplexing gives you a bit more emotional detachment, which can be helpful.

On the other hand, in casual conversation with supportive allies, you can use baffling as much as you like.


I think that baffled means that you didn't saw something coming and it is mostly found when people are lying or surprised. Like take for instance:

When you are lying or trying to hide something from yourself it indicates that you're baffled like "I'm pretty sure Lucy ate the last cookie" and Lucy starts to feel baffled because that is the truth that she is keeping for herself. She did eat the last cookie. And she's like, "Well, I, er, it definitely wasn't me.

The surprise is when :

"Amanda, you won the state contest for your report!" And Amanda stays shocked and baffled to hear the news.

"Wait...me? But, I, how in the? I was the one to win?!?" This shows her no words, her amazement, and shock.

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