The Joys of Learning English (or, Whoever developed this language had a cruel sense of humor)

Lest the title mislead you, let me make my position clear: I'm a dedicated fan of the English language. I would even say I “love” it, except that in a post dedicated to English I wouldn't want to abuse it too soon. Truly, though, it fascinates me. I, um, really like having such a vast choice of words from which to choose. I think the spectrum of languages from which ours descends gives it more flavor and variety than any other language. While it may not be as fluid as some languages, not as harsh as others, I believe the mix creates a rhythm and tone that surpasses the one-note sound of simpler languages.
However...I am afraid I may never master it. I am continually reminded of my own inadequacy. A few days ago, upon rereading the marvelous Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, I stumbled into a misuse of which I am utterly guilty.
Forgive me while I lapse into colloquialism:
Did you guys know that “nauseous” doesn't mean “experiencing nausea”? The proper word for that is “nauseated”, while “nauseous” means “causing nausea”. I can't tell you how many published works by brilliant people I've read that contained this error. I can't tell you how many times (especially when I was pregnant!) I said that I felt nauseous. That seems pretty embarrassing now. Some well-educated Strunk and White reader was probably laughing in his sleeve.
Anyway, I thought I'd best let you all in on the secret so the one-in-a-million person who actually knows the difference doesn't laugh at you, too. :)
Speaking of laughing, the complexity of English does have its good points: listening to a three-year-old trying to figure out the subtleties of pronouns has had me in stitches of late...
I was pointing out the words “me” and “you” in a book with Lucy. She shut the book, climbed up on my lap and said, “Mama, mama, I call you, 'you,' and I call me, 'me.' And you call you, 'me,' and you call me, 'you!'” (Try saying that twice fast.)
I smiled and said, “You're right, Lucy! That's very tricky isn't it?”
She beamed. “Yes. But I know it.”
Then an opportunity for more learning occurred to me. Lucy has been using the third person pronoun “her” or “him” instead of “she” or “he” constantly. So I figured that would be a good time to point out the difference. I pointed to Zoe, my one-year-old. “Well, Lucy,” I said, “If you call me, 'you,' and you, 'me,' then let's think about what you call Zoe. She is Zoe,” I emphasized. “What do you call her?”
Lucy smiled, not to be confused by all my teaching. “Her is my little darling!” she exclaimed.


  1. What a lovely punchline Lucy extemporaneously came up with! I have to confess I have been guilty of "causing nausea" many times when I meant to say I simply felt nauseated. Ah, the dynamic quality of the English language. A great post, as usual--I feel intellectually refreshed/reinvigorated.

  2. Ah, but don't forget language evolution! I took a whole course in college over the history of the English language, and a lot of the words we use now came about from incorrect past usage.

    "Nauseous" will soon be one of those words that'll take on dual meaning--both the traditional "causing nausea" and the newfangled "nauseated". :)

    Also, as much as I adore Strunk and White's ELEMENTS OF STYLE, it's an old book. Brilliant all the same, but English is constantly evolving.

    And yeah. I'm a nerd. ;)

  3. I will be able to point that out now when I hear someone say they feel 'nauseous' :o) I just say I feel sick haha.
    Lucy sounds gorgeous.

  4. Yeah, that nauseous/nauseated thing has cursed me for years. I'll never say it correctly no matter how many times I remind myself. Sigh.

  5. Ah! SOOOO SWEET! That is the sweetest little comment about her baby sister. My heart just melted!

  6. That is the cutest thing I've ever read! Thanks for the giggle. :)


  7. So cute! And I had no idea about "nauseous." Yup, don't want to think about how many times I've used that wrong. :)

  8. We see a future in which mono lingual English graduates face bleaker economic prospects as qualified multilingual graduates prove to have a competitive advantage in global companies and organizations.

  9. :) I loved Lucy's reasoning! :)
    Ryan has understood the difference between "you" and "me" for some time now... I thought we had avoided any confusion... but soon learned differently. :)
    He knows that "you" means other people, and "me" refers to himself. However, it backfired when trying to teach him to say, "I love you..."
    Me: "Ryan, say 'I'..."
    Ryan: "I..."
    Me: " 'love'..."
    Ryan: "...huv..."
    Me: " '!'"
    Ryan *big smile*: "ME!" :)


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