It used to be that if you told me you were nauseous, I might agree with you. The rules of the game have changed.
I can recall an event that happened not that long ago — well, I guess it was twenty some years ago — when a colleague and I were chatting, and he said to me, “I’m nauseous.”
I looked at him for a moment, deciding whether to agree or disagree. He certainly could be annoying at times, and there were occasions when I avoided him because his demeanor could be quite depressing, but he never truly made me feel sick to my stomach.
And so I responded, “No, you’re not, not really.”
He gave me a blank look.
And then, as if I didn’t quite hear him correctly the first time, he repeated, “I’m nauseous.”
And I, adamantly, insisted that he was nothing of the sort.
“How can you possibly know whether I am nauseous?” he finally asked.
“Because, my friend,” I smiled, “You do not make me nauseated. Therefore you are not nauseous.”
I then went on, in a professorial tone that belied my youth, to explain the correct usage of nauseous versus nauseated.
As I understood it, something that is nauseous makes someone feel nauseated.
I clung firmly to that belief until yesterday, when someone at work, looking rather pale, winced as he told me, “I’m nauseous.”
I smiled and replied, “No Mark, you’re not nauseous.”
Grimacing as he clenched his stomach, he responded, “Yes I’m nauseous. Look it up. Nauseous and nauseated are now used interchangeably.”
Aghast at this possibility, I left Mark there dying on the floor as I raced to my computer and confirmed.
As Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage puts it, “Any handbook that tells you that ‘nauseous’ cannot mean ‘nauseated’ is out of touch with the contemporary language. In current use it seldom means anything else.”
I then realized something. I had been feeling proud all these years that I knew something that not everyone else knew; there was a bit of me that enjoyed saying to myself, “Aha, I know something you don’t know,” whether I told the misuser of “nauseous” or not.
And now that something is gone.
Image via Wikipedia
It’s one thing to have a grasp of language and to enjoy words and to be able to choose one’s words carefully. I thoroughly enjoyed reading and listening to William F. Buckley, one of the modern masters of vocabulary. But it’s something else to enjoy a haughtiness that comes with such mastery.
And what’s even worse, I can’t claim to be a master of vocabulary. I’m just a little corn flake in the big bowl of Vocabulary Breakfast Cereal.
With that, I humbly apologize to anyone out there whom I have made nauseated.
To think that perhaps I’ve been nauseous all these years makes me feel … well … nauseous!