Saturday, July 16, 2011

USAGE: Am I wrong on this adverse vs. averse argument?

OK, folks,  step right up, pay your dollah, and smack ol Doug in the face with a cream pie - if I'm wrong in this usage argument.

From a Randy Hines column on language and style errors in this week's Southern Newspaper Publishers Association bulletin (scroll down, or, if you want just that column, the PDF is

Q1       The sportswriter was averse to using imminent writing coach, Jim Stasiowski.

A1       The sports writer was adverse to using eminent writing coach Jim Stasiowski.
Despite dictionary spellings for sportswriter, our AP bible reminds us of this exception as two words.  Averse means unfavorable; adverse means opposed.  Despite Jim’s protests, he is somewhat famous or eminent in journalism circles.  The informal title before the name does not need a comma. 

To which I wrote that I disagreed that it should be "adverse" and that the original "averse" is correct. My argument:
- What is being expressed here is an attitude, and "averse to" is the common American English expression to show opposition as an attitude.
- The object of the aversion is the "using," not "Stasiowski," and "averse" is usually used to express opposition to concepts rather than people.

I think I'm backed up in this usage note from one of several references I consulted yet again to make sure what I thought I understood all these years was what I understood:

Adverse means 'hostile, unfavorable, opposed,' and is usually applied to situations, conditions, or events—not to people: : the dry weather has had an adverse effect on the garden. Averse is related in origin and also has the sense of 'opposed,' but is usually employed to describe a person’s attitude: I would not be averse to making the repairs myself.
(I suggested another test would be substituting "using" for "making" in that usage note - they line up nicely.)

(For now, please don't suggest "opposes" for "is averse/adverse to" - yep, probably better, clearer writing, but let's color within the lines of what the original question was trying to illustrate.)

I also noted this about the explanation put forth as to why there should be no comma:

The use of the comma (or proper nonuse of it in this case) does not have to do with whether it is a formal or informal title. It has to do with whether there is more than one eminent writing coach. Since there is more than one (though few of Jim's caliber), the phrase is restrictive and thus no comma.

So, do I have a clue here, or is it time to send Doug back to a usage re-education camp?

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At 7/16/11, 12:12 PM, Blogger Christopher Frear said...

You had an adverse reaction to the incorrection of averse. Your version is correct.

At 7/16/11, 2:40 PM, Blogger Charles Keefer said...

You are right, Doug. I wouldn't care to use the guy either, not that I wouldn't in an emergency.

At 7/16/11, 8:44 PM, Blogger Doug said...


Just a possible clarification: If you are referring to Jim Stasiowski, he's the "innocent victim" here :)


Thanks, all. Randy Hines got back with me and acknowledges the answer is incorrect and that adverse, indeed, is correct.

At 7/19/11, 2:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being told that I must use a writing coach would be one thing I would adverse.

The question is poorly constructed if the intention is to disambiguate subtly different terms.

One may not be adverse in principal but adverse given the specifics.



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