07/02/2012 08:11 am ET Updated Aug 29, 2012

The Word You're Probably Misusing

Y'ALL: I hate summers in New York; it's true. I spent a long time in Texas, which is known for unbearable summers. But in Texas, we're constantly flooded with central air conditioning everywhere we go. We're either inside, with central air blowing the hair out of our faces, or in an air-conditioned car. There are also snow cones and pools everywhere (Texas is great. If you haven't been there, I suggest you get on the next plane out).

In New York, on the other hand, we are constantly overwhelmed by the heat. We have to walk everywhere. Even if you choose not to walk, if you want to connect via subway so you'll be dropped right off on the doorstep of wherever it is you're going, you are subjected to the infinite hell that is the New York underground subway system. It might actually be 10 degrees hotter in the underbelly of New York (though I do give credit where it's deserved: the subway trains themselves are air-conditioned).

My apartment only has an air-conditioning unit in my bedroom, and the buildings are just not quite as cold as I'd like them to be. Basically, during the summer, I must either confine myself to my bedroom or venture out into the sweltering heat that radiates from the pavement and envelops New York City.

I am by far at my worst in the summer: consistently broken out, sweaty, and frizzy-haired by the time I get anywhere. I'm so disgusting and disheveled by the time I get to social functions that I'm surprised anyone looks at me, let alone talks to me.

I am utterly embarrassed to be seen in public. Please don't judge me if you see me during the summer.

If this sounds overly whiny, hyperbolic, petulant, please, try living in New York for a summer. I promise you, if you're someone who is bothered by heat, it will be very hard to deal with. The oven-like heat might make you feel nauseated if you're not accustomed to it. Because of my overdramatic nature, I'd go so far as to say that summers in New York are nauseous.

"Nauseous" and "nauseated" are two very commonly confused words. People often use "nauseous" when they mean "nauseated." For example, you WOULDN'T say, "I feel so nauseous right now" when you're trying to say, "I feel like I'm going to throw up right now." To express the condition of feeling like you're going to throw up right now, you'd use the word "nauseated." So the correct way to use "nauseated" is: "I feel so nauseated right now."

"Nauseous" means that something is so disgusting or vile that it induces you to want to throw up. It's often used as an exaggeration, as used in the sentence above: "Summers in New York are nauseous."

So, in fact, when you're having a conversation and saying, "I'm so nauseous right now," you're indicating that you look so disgusting that you feel that you and other people may want to barf (so essentially, I could say "I'm so nauseous during New York summers" and it would be entirely 100 percent correct).

In general, you can think of "nauseated" being a condition that a person is in and "nauseous" being an adjective used to describe something else (most grammarians agree that it can be interchanged with "nauseating." If E.B. White wrote it in "The Elements of Style," then it must be true).

The difference between these words seems so slight, which is probably why they're so often confused. After all, they both reference throwing up, feeling queasy. Let's go through some other examples of correct usage:

I felt nauseated when I found out that Jessica Biel was engaged to Justin Timberlake.

The color of the hipster's dress was a nauseous shade of pink.

Joanna felt nauseated after she took 17 shots of tequila.

The garbage's odor that wafted up from the New York City streets was utterly nauseous.

If this fails, and you still don't understand the old-school definition, perhaps just stick with "nauseous." Though grammar snobs and prescriptivists may frown on you, some dictionaries have concluded that "nauseous" can now be used in place of "nauseated" (probably because it has been misused so much that we now understand "nauseous" to mean the same thing as "nauseated").

What commonly misused words or phrases drive you nuts? Let me know in the comments and I might use your example for my next column!