Trend Watch

James Comey: 'Mildly Nauseous'

Yes, the word can be used as a synonym for 'nauseated'

Nauseous (“affected with nausea or disgust”) rose, much like the gorge of a nauseated child who has feasted overmuch on taffy and been forced to endure a long car ride, after FBI director James Comey used the word in a Senate hearing on May 3rd, 2017.

FBI director James Comey said he's "mildly nauseous" about the possibility that his announcement about reopening an investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails influenced the outcome of the election.
—Tessa Berenson, Time (, 3 May 2017


Lookups for 'nauseous' spiked 4,793% after FBI director James Comey used the word in a Senate hearing.

Many people have strong feelings on the subject of nauseous, and its sibling, nauseated. Here is what the usage note in our Unabridged Dictionary has to say on the matter:

Those who insist that nauseous can properly be used only to mean “causing nausea”—that is, as a synonym for nauseating—are mistaken. The word can be, and in fact usually is, used to mean “affected with nausea”—that is, as a synonym for nauseated. Current evidence shows these facts: nauseous is most frequently used to mean physically affected with nausea, often after a linking verb such as feel or become; figurative use is quite a bit less frequent. < … a hundred per cent of the subjects reported that they no longer felt nauseous—even though every one of the anti-nausea drugs was a placebo. — Louis Menand, New Yorker, 1 Mar. 2010> Use of nauseous to mean “causing nausea” is much more often figurative than literal , and this use appears to be losing ground to nauseating. < … reason to wonder if the current traffickers' obsession with nauseating forms of murder did not start back then. — Alma Guillermoprieto, New York Review of Books, 28 Oct. 2010> Nauseated, while not rare, is less common than nauseous in the sense “affected with nausea.” Like nauseous, it is more often literal than figurative.

Nauseous may be found in print from the beginning of the 17th century. Our earliest citation comes from a 1609 edition of Robert Cawdrey’s A Table Alphabeticall: “Nauseous, loathing or disposed to vomit.”

Trend Watch tracks and reports on the words that people are looking up. You can see all the Trend Watch articles here.


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