Was James Comey Mildly Nauseous or Mildly Nauseated?

The skeptical cardiologist was intrigued and disappointed to hear FBI director James Comey state that  “It makes me mildly nauseous to think we might have had some impact on the election.”

Somewhere in my medical training it was drummed into my head that nauseated rather than nauseous is the word he should have used.

I was taught that nauseated means feeling nausea whereas nauseous means causing nausea.

Charles Dickens agrees with my usage. (From Grammarly.com)

Thus, if the smell of rotting fish makes me sick to my stomach I am nauseated  by it but the smell itself  is nauseous or nauseating.

On CNN Erin Burnett interviewed Senator Cory Booker regarding Comey’s comments and I noticed that Booker  always used the term nauseating rather than nauseous. Clearly, he had learned the proper way of using the terms.

As a consequence, I have passed this rigid distinction on to my children and loved ones including my eternal fiancee’. (Another grammatical error I frequently try to correct in those around me is the use of “off of.” When off is a preposition off of  can almost always be shortened to just off and writers who value concision can avoid it.)

Alas, it appears that acceptable usage of these words has changed over the years and the vast majority of my patients say they felt nauseous before they vomited .  I try to stop myself from correcting them because I’m fighting a losing battle.

As WritingExplained.org notes:

Garner’s Modern American Usage says that using nauseous when nauseated is meant (Example: I feel nauseous) is becoming so common that to call it an error is to exaggerate. Still, The Chicago Manual of Style calls this slip-up poor usage.

Clearly the tides are shifting on the usage of these words. There is even some evidence to show that nauseating is now the preferred word for causing nausea, e.g., a nauseating ride, a nauseating smell, a nauseating odor, etc.

It’s entirely possible that 20 years from now my patients will have completely substituted nauseous for nauseated and nauseating for nauseous. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

Perhaps you find this a nauseatingly trivial post with nauseous concepts that nauseate you. If so, please get off my cloud.

Antiemetically Yours,

-ACP

7 thoughts on “Was James Comey Mildly Nauseous or Mildly Nauseated?”

  1. Prescriptive grammar is always behind the times. Not saying that this isn’t a valid point, but the “correct” form of any language is that which communicates the intended message to the intended recipients. Language changes. Formal grammar “rules” generally find it impossible to keep up.

    1. After listening to Comey’s presentation, I’ve decided that he was indeed nauseous! As reply to Vince Medlock, I agree that grammar is fluid. This is the nature of a living language. However, during televised discourse in Congress, it would have been better for Comey to do more than communicate the intended message to the intended recipients. Unfortunately, he communicated an (obvious) unintended message and it is not flattering.

    1. Thanks for the link! The eternal fiancee’ is always correcting where I put my periods in relation to my parentheses.
      I like apples (and bananas).

      She likes apples. (I like bananas.)

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