Did You Really Mean That?
by Cherie Tucker
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