Sunday, August 8, 2010

Nauseous vs Nauseated

I was talking with a colleague last week, when she suddenly felt nauseous. Her face went pale, and she looked shaken. I tend to have that kind of effect on people.

When I apologized for upsetting her, she said it wasn't me, she had just suddenly felt nauseous. And not missing a beat, the editor in her asked, “Or is that nauseated?"

Good question. When we recently described how a scuba diver could “feel nauseous from oxygen deprivation,” we received several responses. One terse letter included the page ripped from the magazine with the word “nauseous” circled and a succinct, hand-written note: “Do better!”

The dear correspondent was holding on to the traditional distinction between nauseated, meaning affected with nausea, and nauseous, meaning causing nausea. So traditionalists would say that my colleague felt nauseated, perhaps caused by my nauseous behavior.

Not so fast, traditionalists. Using nauseous to mean affected with nausea is so common today, that most dictionaries not only accept that usage but argue in favor of it. From the usage note in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition:
Those who insist that nauseous can properly be used only in sense 1 [causing nausea] and that in sense 2 [affected with nausea] it is an error for nauseated are mistaken. Current evidence shows these facts: nauseous is most frequently used to mean physically affected with nausea, usually after a linking verb such as feel or become
Are you feeling nauseous yet?

"I'm nauseous" T-shirt available at Cafe Press.