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A New Word That’s Not a Word: Disconcerning

Lately I have been hearing the word “disconcerning.” When it came up yesterday in an interview on NPR (National Public Radio), I knew it was time to write about it.

“Disconcerning” is actually not a word–at least not a correct one. I’ve just checked all my dictionaries and style guides. With several of them piled on my desk, I can tell you confidently: “Disconcerning” is simply not a word.

If the non-word has crept into your vocabulary, below are words you may intend:

Disconcerting may mean “embarrassing,” “confusing,” “frustrating” (as in “upsetting”), or “disturbing the composure of” depending on the context.


  • It’s disconcerting that the speaker hasn’t arrived yet, and his talk should begin in 10 minutes. (frustrating, upsetting, disturbing)
  • How disconcerting for Karen that the speaker she hired and bragged about did not even show up! (embarrassing, upsetting)
  • It’s disconcerting that my sister is suddenly talking about moving in with us. (disturbing the composure of)

Discomfiting means “making uneasy or perplexed,” “disconcerting.” Yes, it’s a synonym of disconcerting in some contexts. An archaic meaning is “defeating in battle, vanquishing.”


  • It’s discomfiting that all the lights are on at their house, but no one is home. (making uneasy or perplexing, disconcerting)
  • His outrageous behavior is discomfiting his associates.


Discomforting means “making uncomfortable,” “distressing.” As you can guess, it’s a synonym for both of the words above. However, Garner’s Modern English Usage prefers discomfort as a noun rather than this verb form. Garner recommends the word discomfiting rather than discomforting. 

When I choose words for my business communications, clarity wins out over all other concerns. So I don’t use disconcerting, discomfiting, or discomforting. Instead I choose words I hope all my readers understand: embarrassing, upsetting, annoying, frustrating, confusing–and maybe worrisome. 

You may choose fancier words, but be sure one of them is not disconcerning. 

Which made up words have you been hearing and seeing in business messages?



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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

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