This Makes Me Sick

“I’m feeling nauseous,” she said.

“Oh, no! Get away from me!” he replied.

“Why? I won’t throw up on you…”

“If you are nauseous, that means you are causing others around you to become nauseated — by giving off noxious vibes.”

“Get away from me.”

“Why? I’m not the one who is NAUSEATED!”

“Yeah, well you’re making me sick.”

Awful puns aside (they are my favorite kind of pun), nauseous is an interesting example of a technically incorrect adjective winning out over a technically correct version: nauseated. I was taught that describing myself as nauseous meant I was causing others to become nauseated. You see, the proper adjective choice for feeling puke-y is actually nauseated. You can describe a pile of garbage as nauseous or a person who smells terrible as nauseous — the “ous means it is making others sick. In order to describe yourself as feeling sick, you must rely on the “ated” — “I am nauseated and rather sick of writing about nausea.”

Trust me, it’s not like I went around correcting people who said they felt nauseous. You’d have to be a monster to correct the word choice of someone leaning over a toilet bowl. But I took notice of nauseous usage in everyday life: it’s on TV, it’s in books, it’s in movies and plays. Frankly, it’s everywhere. I have heard the proper “nauseated” used maybe a handful of times over the years, and usually only ever proclaimed by a pretentious pedant.

Because language is a living, ever-changing thing, I have been content to sit back and watch as the improper form of an adjective has overtaken the proper form. This blog post is more of a footnote than a call to arms. The word war is over: nauseous wins. I am, however, enough of a word nerd to enjoy sharing this trivia with you.

Nauseous, nauseated, schlemeel, schlemazel — it’s not going to bring society to a grinding halt. And the more compact syllabic structure of nauseous has won out. Frankly, when nausea is a physical reality, brevity is king. If nothing else, you can always avoid nausea forms all together and make use of the many colorful words that mean “to throw up” in English:

vomit   hurl   puke   blow chunks   ralph   chunder*   barf   spew   upchuck   heave   regurgitate   retch   bring up

Language: It’s not all flowery prose.

*Men at Work on chunder: