nau·seous (nôshəs, -zē-əs)
1. Causing nausea; sickening: "the most nauseous offal fit for the gods" (John Fowles).
2. Affected with nausea.
Usage Note: Traditional usage lore has insisted that nauseous should be used only to mean "causing nausea" and that it is incorrect to use it to mean "feeling sick to one's stomach." Back in 1965, the Usage Panel was in step with this thinking, with 88 percent rejecting the "feeling sick" meaning of nauseous in the sentence Roller coasters make me nauseous, preferring nauseated instead. Over the years, however, this attitude has shifted dramatically. The proportion of Panelists who disapproved of this same sentence dropped to 72 percent in 1988, 39 percent in 1999, and a slim 23 percent in 2013. This change may have been inevitable once people began to think that nauseous did not properly mean "causing nausea." Even in our 1988 survey, this was the case, as 88 percent preferred nauseating in the sentence The children looked a little green from too many candy apples and nauseating (not nauseous) rides. In 2013, the Panel was presented with this sentence using the word nauseous, and only 30 percent found it acceptable. Since there is abundant evidence for the "feeling sick" use of nauseous, the word presents a classic example of a word whose traditional, "correct" usage has largely been supplanted by a newer, "incorrect" one. In other words, what was once considered an error is now standard practice. Nauseous is now far more common than nauseated in describing the sick feeling.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
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