Which Word Wednesday: Nauseate vs. Nauseous

By December 8, 2010 culture, language No Comments

People love to pick sides. Toss out an issue, and people start gathering into factions of like-minded folks.

Religion, politics, linguistics . . . that’s right, linguistics. Linguists are some passionate people prone to rallying around causes and common enemies in the realm of word usage.

One such cause is the debate over the proper usage of nauseate and nauseous—a perfect selection for this week’s Which Word Wednesday. The real debate rages in usage: When you feel ill, are you nauseated or are you nauseous?

The Oxford American Dictionary says this:

A distinction has traditionally been drawn between nauseated, meaning “affected with nausea,” and nauseous, meaning “causing nausea.” Today, however, the use of nauseous to mean “affected with nausea” is so common that it is generally considered to be standard.

This is where the debate gets mean. Here are the opposing views, listed no particular order:

Camp 1: Nauseated means “affected with nausea,” and nauseous means “causing nausea.”
Members of this camp include Strunk and White (Elements of Style), The Concise Oxford Dictionary, Theodore Bernstein (The Careful Writer), and 76 percent of the usage panel of the Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage.1

These folks would say:

I am nauseated when I am sick.
I am nauseous when I cause others to be sick (physically, emotionally, etc.).

Camp 2: Both nauseated and nauseous mean “affected with nausea.”
Members of this camp include Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, Dave Dowling (The Wrong Word Dictionary), and Chicago Manual of Style (it conceded in 2003 that after years of frequent misuse, it would be difficult to make the distinction between the two, but they still maintain it is poor usage).2

These folks would say:

I am nauseated when I am sick. — or — I am nauseous when I am sick.

Mark Davidson, in Right, Wrong, and Risky: A Dictionary of Today’s American English Usage, suggests: “Forget nauseous. Instead, say that a nausea-causing person is nauseating and that a nausea-suffering person is nauseated.3

[polldaddy poll=4217674]

What’s my WWW verdict? I’m joining the first camp of sticklers but I appreciate Davidson’s solution to the dilemma.

And what’s your verdict? Are you going to join Camp 1 or 2? Or do you want to make a new camp to rally around Davidson? Cast your vote and share your opinion in the comments.

Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

1. Mark Davidson, Right, Wrong, and Risky: A Dictionary of Today’s American English Usage (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), 374.
2. Ibid., 374.
3. Ibid., 375.

Make your mission irresistible to donors. Schedule a 15-minute Change Chat today.