One of the reasons I’ve loved Wallace’s prose since I found it in 1997 is his mastery of words that often send the less confident amongst us scrambling to a usage guide. To wit:
“I looked as if dust had not drifted under the bed and settled on the carpet inside the frame but rather that somehow taken root and grown on it, upon it, the way a mold will take root and gradually cover an expanse of spoiled food. The layer of dust itself looked a little like spoiled food, bad cottage cheese. It was nauseous” (498).
I love (capital L love even if that bastardizes the word meant to encapsulate feelings you deem more worthy, it’s still what I feel, and it even borders on slurping, my affection) love proper use of the word nauseous. I’ve blogged about it not just once but twice, and waxed both philosophical and self-righteous about it. The short version, for you Wallace fans just stumbling upon Himself’s story about how the terrifying mattress scene inspired to “become interested in the possibilities of annulation” (503), is that nauseous is something that inspires people to vomit. Similarly, something nauseating beckons us to relieve the contents of our stomachs. That’s because nauseated is when you feel as though you might feel better through hurling. Something nauseous makes you nauseated.
Anything makes me nauseated right now, except parsing the grammar of the master.
If you haven’t, go read Tense Present, Wallace’s impeccable tract on the usage debate between prescriptive and descriptive linguists, and the successes and failures of various usage guides. (Thank you, Harper’s for posting his work in one place for us. Damned decent of you.) If you don’t want to read online check out one of the best non-fiction collections I’ve ever read: Consider the Lobster. For those who love his math geekitude, there are also wondrous gleams of genius in Wallace the grammarian.