Boy, do I get requests! Here's a recent one:
With all your newly pregnant friends, will you PLEASE do a WOW on "nauseous" and "nauseated?" Thank you.
W.O.W. to the rescue!
Well, yes, my friend, I will. But I'm afraid neither you nor the majority of my readers will be happy with me.
Many of my readers won't be happy because they'll find out that they've been misusing and confusing the two words since they were children, and they'll be defensive.
You won't be happy because you want me to say that there's an absolute right and wrong. But true to my belief that some word usage is developed by consensus, no matter how offensive, I will have to tell you that there is some fudge room on this one (as much as it nauseates me to say that).
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.nau·se·ate (nô'zē-āt', -zhē-, -sē-, -shē-) Pronunciation Key
intr. & tr.v. nau·se·at·ed, nau·se·at·ing, nau·se·ates
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
- To feel or cause to feel nausea.
- To feel or cause to feel loathing or disgust.
Copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
"So, Lauren, how do you feel this morning?"
"Not so great. I'm really nauseous."
Ahem. Actually, what Lauren has just technically told you is that she either looks bad, smells bad, or is otherwise capable of causing nausea. Yes, I'm serious. "Nauseous" is NOT the same as "nauseated," which is what you are when you are experiencing nausea. Nauseous is an adjective applied to things (well okay, and some people) that are offensive or toxic enough to cause one to become nauseated. Never mind that hardly anyone knows to use it that way any more...that's what it means. "The odor in the shed was a nauseous combination of sulfur and rotten meat. It made me extremely nauseated."
So there it is for the black-and-white among us. If you get sick and claim to be nauseous, you've used the word incorrectly.
Now comes the part of language that sometimes nauseates me. Often a word becomes correct when enough people use it badly so frequently and confidently that no one realizes it's being used incorrectly. There comes a tipping point when even language authorities give their grudging assent, only because there's nothing else to do. It's not noble; it's realistic. And this is quickly becoming the case with this pair of words, simply because our elders did not do a very good job of educating their young in proper usage. If you look up the word "nauseous" in dictionaries, you will now find a slight nod that it is being used to mean "nauseated" and will occasionally be allowed in polite company without a $1000 fine. In one particularly nauseous case, one dictionary has even decided to pander to popular usage by elevating the previously incorrect usage to the first definition!
The website World Wide Words (not an authority, by any means, but an interesting source) comments:
What seems to have happened in the US is that a new usage grew up some time before World War II — one writer suggests that it may have arisen first in the Bronx or Brooklyn — in which nauseous meant the same as nauseated: sick to the stomach. It was only as a result of this local usage that grammarians and usage guide writers after World War II seem to have begun to make a distinction between the two terms, one that some commentators point out is not altogether supported by word history. The Oxford English Dictionary has seventeenth-century examples of nauseous in the sense “inclined to nausea”, though in its entry — written in the late nineteenth century — it marks the sense as both rare and obsolete.
That entry will definitely be revised when the new edition comes out, since nauseous has now regained this meaning, a change that has been widely noted and commented on. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage says firmly: “Any handbook that tells you that nauseous cannot mean ‘nauseated’ is out of touch with the contemporary language. In current usage it seldom means anything else”. The new edition of the American Heritage Dictionary concurs: “Since there is a lot of evidence to show that nauseous is widely used to mean ‘feeling sick,’ it appears that people use nauseous mainly in the sense in which it is considered incorrect".
The above reference to the word's history indicates that the supposedly incorrect usage of "nauseous" was in play as early as the 1600's. That doesn't make it right or wrong, I simply offer it as proof that folks have been messed up for a long time. I report, you decide ;-)
GRANNY'S ADVICE: If you've spent your life saying to your mother or your husband or your children, "I can't get up because I'm feeling nauseous," I am probably not going to convince you to change this habit, and no one in your family or close circle is going to think you the worse for it. However, around the office water cooler, I would suggest that, office politics being what it is, if you want to announce your nausea to your co-workers and your boss with "I'm really nauseous," you just might be inviting Ms. Golden Girl to remark sarcastically as you walk away, "Isn't she though."