Did You Really Mean That?

by Cherie Tucker

Do you know the difference between anxious and eager?  They both describe how you might feel while looking forward to something.  The main difference between them is the element of fear.  If you don’t want that thing to happen, you are anxious about it.  If you are looking forward to it, you are eager to have it happen.  Even people who aren’t aware of the distinctions between the two words can tell one from another.  Imagine getting a letter from your child’s teacher saying, “I am anxious to talk to you about your child’s behavior” versus “I’m eager to talk to you about your child’s behavior.”  Depending on how you feel about outcomes, be careful how you close your letters, say to an agent. 

Another one to watch is literally.  Many people use it for oomph.  “She literally turned green with envy,” you might write.  However, that means there was a pigment change that happened in real time right before your eyes. By the same token, if you or your character literally died from embarrassment, the next scene must be the funeral.

Another confused pair, one that is slowly creeping into common but imprecise usage is nauseated versus nauseous.  If you are queasy and feel you might be on the verge of throwing up, you are nauseated.  If you are nauseous, you will cause anyone around you to throw up.  Advertisers have used nauseous ad nauseum to describe the upset stomach, so people are unwittingly using it incorrectly all the time now.  Be advised that if you say that you are feeling a bit nauseous to someone who knows the difference, that person may beat a hasty exit.  

Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.  She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well.  GrammarWorks@msn.com

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