Feeling sick? Control your “nausea”

A squeamish Facebook reader left a note on my wall last night about the very common use of the word “nauseous” to mean “feeling sick” rather than “inducing a feeling of sickness.”

Hello! You’re here just in time. Today I’ve seen the word “nauseous” used in print is two separate publications. Makes me cringe. Is “nauseated” still the correct term to use to mean the feeling I get whenever I hear or see “nauseous” used instead?

“Nauseous” meaning “feeling sick” is a 20th century American invention. It’s frowned on in formal writing, but it’s very common.

Interestingly, in the Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest examples of “nauseated,” the word meant “causing nausea” (“the nauseated pleasures of luxury” from 1659). Common at the time was the verb “nauseate,” which was used with an object, often with “at,” as in “I nauseate at their improper use of English.” Toss that one out at a party for fun.

“Nauseated” for “feeling sick” seems to emerge in the 18th century. Perhaps there was no nausea-related adjective to describe the feeling before then. If you go back to the original Latin, “nauseous” meant “causing nausea.”

There is another form of the word that has been used for hundreds of years: “nauseating.” A big majority of the American Heritage usage panel preferred “nauseating” to “nauseous” in a sample sentence. So it may be that “nauseous” is being pushed out of formal writing. Something “nauseating” will make us feel “nauseated.” Or it may be that as “nauseating” replaces “nauseous,” “nauseous” will supplant “nauseated.”

I would uphold the distinction and not use “nauseous” for “nauseated” on paper, but don’t make yourself sick over it.

Sorry; that was too easy, I know, but I couldn’t resist.

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