Q&A: Fully sick: nauseous vs nauseated vs nauseating?

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Each week, we chat about the quirks & anomalies of the English language. And sometimes, it really is enough to make you sick…

Q: Hi AWC.
A: Ah, there you are. Where have you been?
Q: I’ve been rather sick lately.
A: We’re sorry to hear that.
Q: Actually, that’s what I wanted to ask you about. I was telling a friend about how just thinking about food had “made me feel nauseous” and she felt the need to point out that I was wrong. I’m pretty sure I’m right.
A: Then this next part may make you feel rather nauseated.
Q: Seriously?
A: She and many language purists (Fairfax media stylebook included) make a clear distinction between “nauseated” (nor-see-ate-id) for experiencing nausea, and “nauseous” (nor-shiss) for causing it.
Q: I think someone needs to check their temperature. Perhaps an aggressive course of anti-idiotics?
A: Sorry, but that’s the traditional viewpoint. However, all is not lost – English is an ever evolving language and–
Q: You really need to get a rubber stamp made with that on it.
A: True. As we were saying, many people such as yourself have abandoned the traditional practice in favour of “nauseous” for experiencing it and “nauseating” (or even “nausea-inducing”) for causing it.
Q: Yeah, but you have style guides on your side.
A: Actually, you have most dictionaries to back you up on the more common usage of “nauseous”.
Q: Really? They prefer my option?
A: Well not exactly. Macquarie Dictionary has the original “causing nausea” as its number one definition, but does concede in definition number three that it can also mean feeling it. It even goes so far as to include a usage note that not everyone will accept this definition.
Q: A kind of “buyer beware” then?
A: Yep, a good way to look at it – “feel free to use nauseous for feeling sick, but watch out for word nerds who will try and tell you it’s wrong”.
Q: Nerds and style guides…
A: Well, that’s where you need to be careful. If you’re writing for a Fairfax publication, for example, you simply need to follow their rules. That’s why they’re there.
Q: I feel nauseous just thinking about it…
A: Haha, indeed. Oh, and one final thing…
Q: Lemme guess, you’re going to tell me that when kids say something is “fully sick”, an ambulance is not required?
A: Totes. But also, that many actually use both words to mean feeling sick – with “nauseated” reserved for physically feeling sick in the stomach and “nauseous” more to do with feeling sick just thinking about something.
Q: So, they’re suggesting that you go with your gut instinct?
A: You’re very clever today.
Q: Must be the prescription drugs…


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