May 31, 2005

Addictive to eggcorns?

Fernando Pereira emailed an example from a mailing list: "become addictive to" in place of "become addicted to". He also sent a sample of web examples of the same substitution.

Why is it so difficult to maintain good habits, when it’s so easy to become addictive to bad ones?
I didn't realise that one could become addictive to this drug.
If you do this over and over you can become addictive to it.
Sometimes I think I am addictive to shopping on EBAY.

Is this an eggcorn, as we've taken to calling a word or phrase given a new, etymologically incorrect morphological analysis, similar in sound and plausible in meaning? I'm not sure. The substitution of "addictive to" for "addicted to" is certainly an example of an etymologically incorrect analysis that is similar in sound. But there are two other processes that might also be at play. First, there's a particular kind of slip of the fingers that results in typing the wrong ending on a word -- -ing in place of -ed, for instance, or -ation instead of -ator. I do this all the time when I'm typing, though I can't recall ever having done it in speech. And second, there's a rarer process by which the logical structure of derived adjectives gets tangled, without the endings necessarily being similar in sound. A good example is the prescriptively-deprecated use of nauseous to mean nauseated.

The substitution of addictive for addicted is exactly parallel to the substitution of nauseous for nauseated. In both cases there is an affecting substance or activity (call it "argument 0"), and a creature that experiences its effects (call it "argument 1"). Traditionally it's argument 0 that is nauseous or addictive -- the innovation is to apply those adjectives to argument 1.

As the AHD usage note indicates, "it appears that people use nauseous mainly in the sense in which it is considered incorrect". The OED's first citation for this usage is from 1949:

1949 Sat. Rev. 7 May 41 After taking dramamine, not only did the woman's hives clear up, but she discovered that her usual trolley ride back home no longer made her nauseous.

Curiously, the very earliest citations in the OED are for a similar usage, in which nauseous means "inclined to sickness or nausea":

1613 R. CAWDREY Table Alphabet. (ed. 3), Nauseous, loathing or disposed to vomit.
1651 J. FRENCH Art Distillation V. 144 It may be children or those that are of a nauseous stomack.
1678 J. RAY Coll. Eng. Prov. (ed. 2) Pref., I veiled them, that I hope they will not turn the stomach of the most nauseous.

It'll be interesting to see whether the innovative meaning for addictive grows and takes over, as the innovative use of nauseous did, or whether it remains (as it is now) a sporadic mistake.

Another question: are there other adjectives where a similar process is taking place?

[Update: Ben Zimmer has tracked nauseous="nauseated" way back before 1949:

A usage no doubt repulsive to the John Simons and Robert Fiskes of this world is the equating of "nauseous" with "nauseated" (rather than the earlier sense of "nauseating"). The OED3 draft entry dates this sense of "nauseous" to 1949, but surely we can do better...

1885 Daily Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica) 14 Apr. 2/5 I saw the long and white helmeted troops march in apparent comfort on their way, while I swayed to and fro and was bumped up and down and oscillated and see-sawed from side to side until I became nauseous and had exhausted my profane Arabic vocabulary in the vain attempt to induce "Daddles" to consider my comfort more than his own.

1903 Coshocton Daily Age (Ohio) 16 Sep. 1/1 Her voyage through the spirit land made her somewhat nauseous and was not the most pleasant journey imaginable, but she is on the high road to recovery now.

1906 Daily Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica) 7 July 7/3 (advt.) When you feel nauseous and dizzy, don't take brandy or whisky -- try Nerviline.

1927 Chicago Tribune 9 May 10/3 This lasts ten or fifteen minutes, and then I have a terrible headache and I feel nauseous.

1933 Los Angeles Times 21 Sep. II6/1 (advt.) The salts that do not make you nauseous.

The 1885 cite is from an unnamed piece entitled, "In the Camps at Korti: Terrible March across the Heated Sands of the Soudan" ("Daddles" is the name of the writer's camel). So perhaps British (or Commonwealth) sources antedate American ones for this usage (despite the OED's "orig. U.S." tag).

Here is the earliest cite I could find expressing concern over the proper use of "nauseous" (from Frank Colby's column, "Take My Word For It!"):

1946 Los Angeles Times 8 Nov. II7/7 From a recent issue of Look: "Stefan became nauseous." Could that be right? ... Yes, if the author intended to say that Stefan was loathsome; so disgusting as to cause nausea. Obviously he meant to write: Stefan became nauseated.



Posted by Mark Liberman at May 31, 2005 08:16 AM