A disconcerting feeling is a subtle sense that something isn’t quite right. Less severe than a word like “alarming,” “disconcerting” describes the feeling of being shaken or unnerved.

The word “disconcerting” comes from a French root which describes a group of people acting together. The same root gives rise to the word “concert,” which originally meant a group of musicians all playing together. By analogy, someone who has experienced something disconcerting feels shaken or rattled, like a group of musicians who are not playing in harmony. He or she may feel as if the different parts of his or her mind and body aren’t working together properly.

A disconcerting feeling is often subtle; it’s unnerving rather than shocking or alarming. It can mean that a person has experienced something worrying but can’t quite put a finger on what the source of their concern actually is. The actual source of the problem may not occur to him or her until much later.


Filmmakers use a variety of techniques to create a disconcerting effect.

Artists and filmmakers use a variety of techniques to create a disconcerting effect. Alfred Hitchcock famously used jangling, high-pitched strings and off-kilter camera angles to create a sense of destabilisation in his films, while Korean director Park Chan-Wook uses disturbing visuals and choppy, brutal pacing to create sequences that can be as confusing as they are thrilling and frightening.

This unnerving effect can be harder to achieve in literature. Early 20th-century author H.P. Lovecraft wrote tales of horror that made use of up-to-date scientific knowledge and densely realistic research to create a sense of disconnection between readers and the world around them, but many modern readers struggle with Lovecraft’s old-fashioned prose. One of the most successfully disconcerting works of modern literature is Mark Z. Danielewski’s “House of Leaves,” a complex patchwork of a novel that leaves the reader with the perturbing feeling that more has happened than has really been understood.

Although this is a subtle word, expressing a feeling that’s less dramatic than being shocked or terrified, the sense of being disconcerted — that something is out of place somehow — can be very potent. Less concrete than worry and less obvious than outright fear, a disconcerting feeling occurs when you know something is wrong but have no way of knowing what it is.

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