It doesn’t pay to be a word pedant

29 Aug
I discovered today that yet another one of my favourite frequently misused words is not so misused, after all.  Years ago, I read somewhere that the word "nauseous" should not be used to describe a feeling of being ill or disgusted (as in, "Ugh, I’m feeling nauseous!") because the real definition of that word is causing the feeling of nausea.  The proper term, as I have often lectured, is "nauseated".
I was reading a blog today in which someone mentioned feeling nauseous.  Although a red light went on for me, I decided it would be a good idea to consult a respected dictionary to see what it had to say on the subject.  Here it is, from Merriam-Webster:
Main Entry: nau·seous
Pronunciation: 'no-sh&s, 'no-zE-&s
Function: adjective
1 : causing
nausea or disgust : NAUSEATING
2 : affected with
nausea or disgust
nau·seous·ly adverb
nau·seous·ness noun
usage Those who insist that nauseous can properly be used only in sense 1 and that in sense 2 it is an error for nauseated are mistaken. Current evidence shows these facts: nauseous is most frequently used to mean physically affected with nausea, usually after a linking verb such as feel or become; figurative use is quite a bit less frequent. Use of nauseous in sense 1 is much more often figurative than literal, and this use appears to be losing ground to nauseating. Nauseated is used more widely than nauseous in sense 2.
So it seems I have some adjusting to do to my English usage sensor system.
I’m glad I had the caution to check out this word; last year, I got myself into hot water over another commonly misused (or so I thought) word: decimated.  I had read somewhere (where, oh where?) that to decimate something means to destroy one-tenth of it.  This is the true original meaning of the word, but — gasp! — the language has evolved!  I had pointed out to someone (someone I didn’t know very well) what the true meaning of the word was and she kind of lost it on me.  As in got really upset and told me she didn’t need this kind of thing and she was pretty sure I was mistaken.  I was taken aback and decided to look it up, not to prove her wrong, but just for my own satisfaction.  Sure enough, she was right:

Main Entry: dec·i·mate
Pronunciation: 'de-s&-"mAt
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): -mat·ed; -mat·ing
Etymology: Latin decimatus, past participle of decimare, from decimus tenth, from decem ten
1 : to select by lot and kill every tenth man of
2 : to exact a tax of 10 percent from <poor as a decimated Cavalier — John Dryden>
3 a : to reduce drastically especially in number <cholera decimated the population> b : to cause great destruction or harm to <firebombs decimated the city> <an industry decimated by recession>

Imagine what an enormous heel I felt like. [sic]

Yes, language does evolve.  This prompted me to also look up "gender" for my Latin degree friend who insists it is not interchangeable with the word "sex" when referring to male and female humans — sorry Adam, gotta get with the times.  However, Peaeater, you’ll be happy to know that M-W does not endorse the verb "impacting".

Still, overall, I have to admit that it’s much safer not to care about words at all.


6 Responses to “It doesn’t pay to be a word pedant”

  1. Meandering August 29, 2006 at 10:11 pm #

    Words suck.  I never use them if I can avoid it.

  2. Meandering August 29, 2006 at 10:11 pm #


  3. Nemmy August 30, 2006 at 4:04 am #

    Wow… stupid evolution. Guess I should be careful too!

  4. Peter August 30, 2006 at 3:43 pm #

    Well, you *say* it doesn\’t pay to be a word pedant.
    I still think the word "decimate" pretty much means "the destruction of 1/10th the thing." "Language evolves" may be, but it only evolves as we choose to use it. I personally am slotting the sloppy (yes, sloppy) use of decimation into the hopeful monster category.

  5. Peter August 30, 2006 at 3:44 pm #

    Oh damn. That was me commenting, below. Can\’t manage to make the commenting work for me…

  6. AnonieMonie July 1, 2016 at 8:59 am #

    Being a pedant definitely doesn’t pay. To the rest of us you just seem like self absorbed jerks. No one respects you when you interrupt and derail the conversation they’re having with you to point out a grammar or common spelling mistake, or some useless trivial detail that’s not 100% correct.

    All it says to the other person is that you’re not really interested in having a real conversation. It’s actually a problem with your communication skills.

    It gives the rest of us the impression that you think you’re more intelligent than everyone. Especially to those of us who can write very well but have absolutely none of the desires of a pedant.

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