Column – In Love with Language

With Dianne Loyet

Nauseated or Nauseous?

As an English teacher and a linguist, I’m supposed to accept the mantle of grammar maven as well. One of the issues I’m supposed to have a strong opinion about is the usage of nauseated and nauseous.

As far as I’m concerned, however, as long as you’re not nauseating, we’re good.

The fact is that languages change, just like everything else. Trying to enforce archaic language rules for the sake of tradition is about as reasonable as trying to hold back the tide. It appears that both nauseous and nauseated have been used to mean “queasy” since about 1600 (oldest written sources); grammar mavens only began trying to force different meanings on the two forms after World War II. Today, whether you say, “I’m nauseous,” or “I’m nauseated,” I know that you mean, “Watch out! I’m about to hurl!” So we’re good either way.

Although I understand and generally enjoy the process of language change, I think that from time to time we do make poor choices when coining new words or expressions. A recent example is the advertising world’s promotion of the word ‘clean’ to describe food that is free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). When I hear a commercial about ‘clean food,’ my mind makes the leap to ‘unclean food’. Since I associate the word ‘unclean’ with disease, my mind then presents me with the image of a sandwich made with moldy bread and rotting meat wrapped in bloody bandages. Lovely.

According to my goto dictionary website,, ‘clean’ when followed by ‘food’ should mean ‘free from dirt or impurities,’ or ‘free of drugs’. It may seem acceptable to consider GMOs ‘dirt’ or ‘impurities,’ or ‘drugs’ except for one thing—at this point in time there is no scientific basis for considering all GMOs either good or bad for people or the planet.

It is unlikely that science will ever reach such a consensus; each GMO will have to be evaluated separately. As the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes on its website, foods that contain GMOs “must meet the same safety, labeling, and other regulatory requirements that apply to all foods regulated by FDA.” Further, if the contents of a GMO containing food are different from that food without GMOs, the GMO containing food must have a different name which indicates the way in which it is different. “For example, when FDA learned during a consultation that a new canola oil had increased lauric acid content compared to conventional canola oil, we required the oil to be labeled ‘laurate canola oil.’”

You have every right to avoid GMOs if that’s what you wish. And restaurants have every right to promote the fact that they don’t use foods with GMOs in them.

But food choice is a rational decision, not an emotional one. I resent anyone using loaded language to influence my decision about whose turkey sandwich I should or should not be eating.

That is a strategy that I think we should all find nauseating.