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

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. <There was a leftover half sandwich in the passenger seat and the smell made me nauseous. — Michael Finkel, Esquire, 1 Jan. 2010> < … 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 <Nobody does anything as nauseous as try to make everybody all pray together or pray aloud or anything … — David Foster Wallace, Rolling Stone, 25 Oct. 2001>, and this use appears to be losing ground to nauseating. <It has sent a nauseating ripple through the financial markets … — National Review, 21 Dec. 2009> < … 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. <He lost his appetite and his energy and found himself nauseated throughout the day, and he could not walk a city block without feeling weak and woozy. — Phillip Roth, Everyman, 2006>

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.”

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