Rogue Words from A to Z: Nauseating Nightmare

A to Z Letter NToday I’m going to talk about that nasty little word nauseous and its cousin nauseate.

Traditionalists will tell you that nauseous should only refer to something that induces nausea.

Trask was leading his comrades in a nighttime raid against the enemy village. Suddenly he stopped in his tracks. What was that nauseous smell?

When you encounter something nauseous, you feel nauseated.

Trask held up a cautionary hand to his followers while he tried to identify the smell. It was difficult to make out, because all he could think about was how it made him feel nauseated.

Striped Skunk

Could it be these guys? No, guess again!


Today’s English speakers often use nauseous to describe the state of feeling nausea: “I feel nauseous” rather than “I feel nauseated.”

Skrim was right behind Trask. He started to gag, although he was trying valiantly to suppress it. “I feel nauseous,” he mumbled.

Many people tell you that this usage of nauseous is wrong. But even Garner’s Modern American Usage notes that this is a Stage 4 usage, which means that it is virtually universal but “is opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts (die-hard snoots).” And the Canadian Oxford Dictionary goes so far as to say, “Objections to the use of nauseous in this sense on the grounds that nauseated should be used instead are ill-founded. This is in fact by far the most common sense of nauseous.”

Trask hissed at Skrim through his teeth, “You’ll never get to be a leader if you don’t use your words correctly.”

“Sorry,” Skrim muttered. Trask was tough on everything, including language.

Trask barely heard Skrim’s reply. He felt overpowered by the nauseating stench. Finally he identified it as the nauseatingly daisy-fresh smell of recently washed humans. The village had clearly anticipated their arrival, and they had all taken baths!

“Gaaah!” he cried in frustration. “Trolls, retreat!”

The grimy, stinky horde shuffled off to find better pickings elsewhere.


What’s the most nauseous smell you’ve encountered?

Image of skunks by Tom Friedel from Wikimedia Commons

This post is dedicated to Loni Townsend. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will overwhelm the objectionable letter O…


© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

33 thoughts on “Rogue Words from A to Z: Nauseating Nightmare

  1. Nausea by itself is a hard word to spell. And I’ve been spelling it a lot lately

    Peanut, one of our dogs, is on anti-nausea medicine, for [REASONS] and in the morning, I give her her pill, then send my sleeping wife a message saying that Peanut has had her anti-nausea pill (I do that so my wife doesn’t give her a double dose. Look, it’s how we do things in the 21st century.)

    Anyway, sending these messages is a challenge because “nausea” is a hard word for me to spell. I keep wanting to put an e or a u in the wrong place. Neausea or nauseau.

    (Sorry for all the unnecessary details… I should have just said ME AM BAD AT SPELING)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The smell of sulfur or sulphur….driving by a paper mill. Sometimes traveling in an unfamiliar region, the overnight camping spot may turn to be downwind from a paper mill, nauseous smell filling the tent up….skunks are cute and smell similar to an acid coffee. Will take them anytime over paper mills. Thanks for the trolls story!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m trying to think if I have ever been near a paper mill. I can imagine it’s awful. I have driven by beer factories and the smell of those really gets to me on humid days when the air’s not moving!


  3. I use nauseous the “wrong” way – and I know it but don’t want to be a pedant! I’m glad your textbooks back me up – I think it’s one of those changing words which are part of language’s natural flow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree! It’s a continuum, really – language and its usage evolve over time. I think it’s also important to take your audience into account. I wouldn’t want to be a pedant, either. I like to know what the experts say and how things are used in practice, and then make my own judgment. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I would say someone feels nauseous indeed, but a smell is nauseating. Interesting that the dictionaries’ and language puritans’ opinions vary on this, but that, according to the puritans, its use is exactly opposite.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are so many disagreements when it comes to language. I feel the most important consideration is whether you are getting your message across to your readers.


  5. Hands down, stinky tofu in Taiwan. It gets its name for a reason, and I can’t believe people can eat it! I’m glad I can still use “I feel nauseous” even though it’s technically wrong. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve used “nauseous” all my life, and refer to a smell as nauseating. I agree that one can be too pedantic, but it’s also important to keep irritating usage out of our writing, even if the word is acceptable to many people. I don’t mean this one, but many others out there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting, Margie! Yes, there’s a variation there. One of the things I really like about my Garner’s Modern American usage is it gives an indication of how “unacceptable” a usage is rather than trying to say it’s flat out right or wrong. Some things can work in informal contexts but not others.

      Liked by 1 person

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