Warning: Musty, Dead Old Rules Can Make You Nauseous

I once had an old copy of Emily Post’s famous etiquette book – an edition published in, I believe, the 1930s. One of the few things I read in it was the proper protocol for paying a someone a social visit. If I remember right, here’s what you’re supposed to do: Step into the parlor or salon upon the butler’s invitation. Place your calling card in the tray he holds out. Then patiently wait to see whether you’ll be received by the man or lady of the house.

I hadn't thought about that in years until I happened to notice the entry in the 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style for the words “nauseous” and “nauseated.”

 Here’s what Chicago says: “nauseous/nauseated. Whatever is ‘nauseous’ induces a feeling of nausea – it makes us feel sick to our stomachs. To feel sick is to be ‘nauseated.’ The use of ‘nauseous’ to mean ‘nauseated’ may be too common to be called an error anymore, but strictly speaking it is poor usage. Because of the ambiguity in ‘nauseous,’ the wisest course may be to stick to the participial adjectives ‘nauseated’ and ‘nauseating.”

Really, Chicago? That’s the same trumpet William Strunk was blowing a century ago, and even for those times it seemed silly and quaint. I’ve never in my life heard someone in conversation describe something sickening as “a nauseous sight” or “a nauseous smell.” And only rarely do I hear people opt for “I’m nauseated” over "I’m nauseous.”

Ironically, I came across this Chicago entry while looking in the guide to see its ruling on “log in” vs. “login.” I wanted to know whether Chicago editors echoed the AP's advice to use “log in” as a verb and “login” as a noun. But, no, Chicago didn’t cover these matters. Instead, they dedicated space to trying to resuscitate a supposed “rule” so long dead that many people have probably never encountered the “correct” usage.  

 Plus, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Garner’s Modern American Usage, and Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage all allow "nauseous" to mean sick-feeling, with the latter adding that there is “a persistent belief, dear to the hearts of many American commentators, that ‘nauseous’ has but a single sense: ‘causing nausea.’ There is, however, no basis for this belief.”

That’s why Chicago’s entry seems about as practical to me as that Emily Post business with the calling card and the butler.

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One Response to “Warning: Musty, Dead Old Rules Can Make You Nauseous”

  1. Best title of a blog post ever!