Probably some of you have already rolled your eyes. You may even be one of the people I have e-mailed to say that you have used the wrong word in your article. Too many times I have read a comment like this in a blog, article, letter, e-mail, or some other form of communication:
“I couldn’t believe what I saw. It made me nauseous.”
What the person has just said is, “It made me become a person who made others sick to their stomach.” I don’t think that’s what they meant to say. But that’s what nauseous means. If I am over-bearing, overuse foul language, or complain about the same thing each time I’m with someone, they may experience nausea when they see me coming towards them. If so, I am nauseous.
What they really meant to say was “It made me nauseated.” That means that what the person saw made them sick to their own stomach. “It made me barf!” It’s an easy mistake to make when you are trying to convey something using language which is common to your culture. I have had a similar feeling in listening to the garbage being spewed from the mouths of some candidates in the 2016 presidential race. I was truly nauseated, for instance, when I heard Senator Rubio say that if he was talking with a young girl who had been raped and found herself pregnant, he would be frank with her and tell her to “suck it up” and carry the baby to full term. “Bad things happen” all the time. It didn’t make me nauseous; it made me nauseated.
Julie Roads, who writes the blog Writing Roads, helped me understand the dilemma that faces writers. Do you use the incorrect term, recognizing the error, but wanting to write in the language familiar to the reader? Or do you use the grammatically correct language which sounds stilted and awkward to the reader? The object, after all, is to create a piece which the potential reader will read, and will not skip over because it’s awkward. It’s a real choice.
As I have said before I am pre-conditioned by my background to language usage, grammar and spelling . My mother was an elocutionist. I have spent 24 years of my adult life in classrooms as a student and 4 as a teacher. I read voraciously, and I recognize myself as a wordsmith. It is ingrained in me and I can’t help it. But I can make the choice to employ the best usage possible for myself, and try not to be judgmental or obnoxious when others choose to go in a different direction. I don’t have to correct others every time I hear a misuse of Contemporary American English. I can let it slide. It’s a more appropriate thing to do rather than becoming what some call a word Nazi.
But no matter how hard I try, my guess is that I won’t succeed.
Image credit: Megan Simpson
[This is a blog posting I wrote in 2009. I have updated it somewhat. But an event this morning caused me to go back to it and publish it.]