The Grammarphobia Blog

A revolting thought

Q: The word “revulsed” reared its ugly head in the CBS response to the Don Imus flap, as in this quote from Leslie Moonves: “I believe all of us have been deeply upset and revulsed by the statements that were made on the air.” I was certain that this usage was wrong. Off to the dictionary I went—and found it in Merriam-Webster’s. As Mr. Wagnalls said to his partner: “Funk, who woulda thunk.” What do you say?

A: For starters, the Oxford English Dictionary has never heard of “revulsed” in this sense. The only “revulsed” I can find in the OED is a 17th-century medical term meaning to pull back or tear away. Here’s a 1673 example by the English physician and anatomist William Harvey, from a book published after his death: “To take away the blood … that it might be revulsed from the lungs.”

As you point out, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) includes the adjective “revulsed” and defines it as affected with revulsion. It says this usage dates from 1934. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) has a similar entry.

Traditionally, to feel revulsion is to be “revolted,” not “revulsed.” I don’t know about you, but I find this new word entirely unnecessary. “Revolted” is a perfectly good word and I think “revulsed” is … revolting.

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