A few weeks ago, at the suggestion of an admired OS colleague, I opened a thread on word usage and origins called "Word of the Day."
I'm sure the implication was that it would be a daily feature, but I knew at the time that it wouldn't be daily. Yet, a writing community like Open Salon is fertile territory for posts and comments that suggest topics.
CAVEAT: Think of this as a piece of a glossary, not as a dart thrown at any individual. If discussions of word usage annoy you, go somewhere else.
Today's word is "averse," a state of aversion. The New York Times Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused & Mispronounced Words defines averse as an adjective meaning "having a feeling of repugnance; opposed; disinclined.
It is commonly confused with "adverse," although not quite to the extent to be called a malapropism. Adverse is defined by the same source as an adjective meaning "antagonistic; hostile; unfavorable; unfortunate."
We often read that someone or some institution is "risk averse," or disinclined to take risks. Because both averse and adverse are oppositional adjectives, they are often confused, resulting in the awkward construction of phrases like "risk adverse."
Used in a sentence properly, imagine this scenario.
- Dr. Anonym, deeply concerned about her rising malpractice premiums and likewise deeply caring for her patients, has an aversion to prescribing drugs that have a high incidence of adverse reactions. That is, she is disinclined to administer pharmaceuticals whose side effects can be unfortunate.
June Casagrande, in her delightful Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite, has the best take I've found.
Here, in a segment attributed to Lucifer S.B.D.D.L.P.o.D. Mephistopheles, Esq., is what she wrote: "Adverse" shall mean unfavorable. "Averse" shall mean reluctant. The subtle similarity of the two shall forever torment all who attempt to wield these words. For those who master their use, I create a third word just to confuse. That word shall be "aver," a verb meaning to declare something to be true, to state positively, or to affirm. I am Satan!
The Latin origin of averse [aversus, pp. of avertere, AVERT] indicates that its strict meaning is "turned from;" in historical writing, then, you might run across "averse from" instead of the more modern "averse to."
Adverse has a Latin origin in advertere, meaning situated opposite a thing.
As always with W.O.O.D., we invite irresponsible comment.
The previous installment of W.O.O.D., with comments, is here.