10 February 2008

Sunday Judgment III

Today's subject: nauseated vs. nauseous.

As I folded laundry this morning, trying to decide on a "Sunday Judgment" topic, I listened to some especially good moments in today's
special encore addition of Prairie Home Companion. In the "News from Lake Wobegon" segment, Garrison pulled a typically self-conscious SNOOT move: he used nauseated where most of us would use nauseous.

("SNOOT (n) (highly colloq) is [David Foster Wallace's] nuclear family's nickname à clef for a really extreme usage fanatic, the sort of person whose idea of Sunday fun is to look for mistakes in Satire's column's prose itself. This reviewer's family is roughly 70 percent SNOOT, which term itself derives from an acronym, with the big historical family joke being that whether S.N.O.O.T. stood for 'Sprachgefuhl Necessitates Our Ongoing Tendance' or 'Syntax Nudniks of Our Time' depended on whether or not you were one.")

My good friend Rachel, whose mom works for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, was the one who first alerted me to this (faux?) faux pas. The SNOOTs claim that if you're "nauseous" then you're actually causing someone else to feel "nauseated" (that is, nauseous means just "causing nausea" and not "affected with nausea"). David Foster Wallace apparently agrees, both implicitly (he, or rather Hal in Infinite Jest, cares not for Webster's, which issued the ruling that the SNOOTs "are mistaken" on this issue) and explicitly ("Nauseous for nauseated" makes his list of grievances at the beginning of "Authority and American Usage," aka "Tense Present").

Let's be clear: I'm a SNOOT, though perhaps not a very good one. I do a lot of yelling at the TV when people get expressions wrong, especially when they hone in or confuse run the gamut (I try to) with run the gantlet (I'd rather not). And I relentlessly adhere to the typical advice that, while it's no longer necessary to use that for restrictive clauses and which for nonrestrictive ones, it's best to just do so anyway, since there's no harm in doing it in what used to be the only correct way, whereas someone might assume that you're unaware that there's even a controversy if you disregard the outdated rule.

All that said, I've never been able to get worked up about nauseated vs. nauseous.

Of course, the very idea of the "Sunday Judgment" feature is that we can all have our own preferences about such matters. However, on this particular day, I worry that I'm perhaps the worst kind of SNOOT, the kind who's only SNOOTy about the things he's always known to be SNOOTy about. Is it wrong to feel like I should try to be more of an asshole so that I'll at least be a consistent one?


On a completely unrelated note, I realized today that Garrison and DFW have another preference in common. They both favor abrupt and less immediately satisfying ultimately more thought provoking story endings over the superficially more witty one-liner types that bring the story full circle by making some reference to the introduction. Would that I had the insight and daring to attempt the latter more often.

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