English has long borrowed words and expressions—called loanwords—from other languages. Indeed, even pre-Old English (600-1100) and Old English (1100-1500) speakers used Latin terms taken from the texts and writings that were available to them at the time. But it was the early Modern English period (1500-1650) that truly saw a large influx of Latin terms, like ad nauseam, into the English language. (This influx also included Greek terms and continued after 1650 into the years of Present-Day English, which is the period we remain in today.) In fact, the first known English usage dates back to 1644. Because it has been in use for so long, ad nauseam is no longer a loanword, per se. Rather, it has become conventionalized. Meaning, the expression now resembles our language and feels a natural part of it. But what does the adverb phrase ad nauseam actually mean? And how do you use the term correctly today when speaking and writing? Keep reading to find out.
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The literal Latin translation of ad nauseam—pronounced ad naw-zee-uhm—is “to nausea” or “to sickness.” It is thought to originate from a longer Latin phrase, argumentum ad nauseam, which is why today ad nauseam on its own is typically used to describe an argument that is repeated so many times a person becomes sick from or sick of hearing it, literally (hence the origins) or figuratively. (Other similar Latin phrases include argumentum ad infinitum and ad infinitum, which translate to “argument to infinity” and simply “to infinity.”) Of course, while hearing the same thing over and over again, to an excessive or annoying degree, isn’t very likely to make you physically ill, it might make you feel disgusted or bored, which are the most common figurative instances in which the term is used. However, it doesn’t have to be used to describe an argument and can really be said or written in reference to any action not wished to be seen, heard, or discussed any longer.
I never want to see that commercial again! They played it ad nauseam last night; it was so annoying! We’ve been arguing ad nauseam over who should take out the trash. I’m sick of it! I’ve heard her brag about her kids ad nauseam, and my ears can’t take it anymore!
Because it has been used in English for so long, you don’t usually need to italicize the term in writing. However, you may sometimes see it written this way, especially when the writer is referring to the phrase itself, as it is often in this article.
Are There Other Spellings of Ad Nauseam?
There’s a good chance you may have seen this term written ad nauseum, whether in books and newspapers or online articles. Even well-known authors and news reporters get things wrong from time to time, with this inaccurate spelling slipping past their editors. If you see the phrase spelled this way, with an extra u, know that it is incorrect. There is only one true and proper spelling: ad nauseam. Pay special attention to the spelling of this Latin-derived expression when you write it.
What Part of Speech Is Ad Nauseam?
Ad nauseam is an adverb phrase, also called an adverbial phrase. An adverb phrase is simply two or more adverbs joined together; as a pair, trio, etc., they function just as an adverb does in a sentence. As a refresher, an adverb modifies or qualifies—meaning it further defines or describes—a verb, adjective, or even another adverb. Typically, it conveys information about time, place, manner, or degree. In other words, it explains where, how, when, or why something was done. Adverb phrases do exactly the same. In the case of ad nauseam, it defines the degree to which an argument or action is carried out: to an excessive, even ridiculous, degree. Let’s break this down a bit more. Consider the following example sentences:
Bob talked about his love of the movies.
Bob talked about his love of the movies ad nauseam.
Harry and Sally argued about who was the better baker.
Harry and Sally argued ad nauseam about who was the better baker.
The children ran around the park.
The children ran around the park ad nauseam.
Without the adverb phrase ad nauseam in one sentence of each of these example sentence couples, we don’t know all there is to know about the action that was performed. Using ad nauseam tells us the manner in which or degree to which Bob talked about the movies, Harry and Sally argued, and the children ran.
What Are Synonyms for Ad Nauseam?
If you’re looking to describe the degree to which an action or debate was carried out and you’re unsure if your audience knows the term ad nauseam, there are many other words and sayings that can function as adverbs and adverb phrases to express the same meaning.
Here are some of the most common words that are synonyms of ad nauseam:
You can also use other phrases in place of ad nauseam, such as:
At length / at great length
In detail / in great detail
Again and again
Morning, noon, and night*
On and on
Over and over
Hour after hour
Time after time
Although some of these words and phrases might be “weaker,” in that they may not fully convey the annoyance or disturbance one can feel when an action is performed ad nauseam, they are generally good substitutes. You can use a thesaurus to find additional options as well.
The saying morning, noon, and night is an idiom. An idiom is an expression that’s meaning is unrelated to the individual words that comprise it. Idioms have a figurative rather than literal meaning. To learn more about idioms and idiomatic phrases, take a look at this article from The Guardian.
To recap, ad nauseum is a Latin-derived phrase. The definition of ad nauseam is to an excessive or sickening degree or disgusting extent. It is also often used to mean to boredom. Because of its origins, it is typically used to describe an argument or a debate. But, it can be used to describe any action that has been carried out. Although often misspelled ad nauseum, ad nauseam is the only correct spelling. Ad nauseam is considered an adverb phrase, because it explains the manner in which or degree to which an argument or action has occurred. You can use a variety of words and phrases in place of ad nauseam, whether you’re writing or speaking. A few common synonyms include: repeatedly, endlessly, and excessively.
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