Nauseous grammar

In the world of medicine there has been a grammatical battle raging for what seems an eternity. “Who are the warring parties?”, you ask. On one side are those that say “nauseating”, and on the the other, those that say “nauseous”.

“Other related terms from the 17th century—nauseation, nauseative, nauseity, nausity—are now obsolete or used very rarely…”

Who is right? The merging borders of written and spoken language; the cyclical nature of grammatical favour and the explosion of social media are to blame for the confusion surrounding linguistic semantics.

Whereas the use of nauseous in the subjective sense when speaking now seems a given, nauseated is still holding its own in text. Conversely, the use of nauseous to indicate the cause of nausea is rapidly falling into disuse in spoken conversation (and when it is used, it is sometimes confused with noxious), whereas it maintains only a rapidly diminishing tenuous lead over nauseating in text.

Find out more at the OUPblog: Nauseating or Nauseous or at the AMA Manual of Style

“And from the standpoint of medicine as an art for the prevention and cure of disease, the man who translates the hieroglyphics of science into the plain language of healing is certainly the more useful.” – William Osler, from ‘Teacher and Student’, in Aequanimitas.

PS. For those that missed Toxicology Conundrum 015, here’s a vivid reminder of why its all bad, regardless of whether you’re feeling nauseated or nauseous…

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  1. james says

    Congratulations, I'm glad you brought this important controversy to our attention. Personally, when feeling unwell, I would much rather be “nauseated”. I don't very much like the idea of being “nauseous” to others.

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