Once again, I must thank the lovely and talented Deborah Bancroft for this suggestion. (Please do visit her blog, “Dispatches from Wordnerdia,” linked in our blogroll on the main page.) The check’s in the mail, babe.
I hope that you, dear reader, noticed that I used the wrong word in the title for today’s entry. I hope. I cannot presume, however. The fact that folks can and do confuse “averse” and “adverse” led Deborah to suggest this topic. Therefore, onward we go — under adverse conditions or otherwise.
“Averse” is an adjective meaning “having a strong dislike or opposition to something” (thank you, online Merriam-Webster Dictionary). It’s related to the word “aversion,” which is the noun for that strong dislike or opposition. You’ve probably heard of “aversion therapy.” Anyone recall the scene from Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” where our boy Alex (played by Malcolm MacDowell) is strapped into a chair, his eyelids held open forcibly, while he’s subjected to images of violence? (The Beethoven soundtrack isn’t part of the torture, you know . . .) Unbeknownst to him, those daily “vitamin” injections were actually a drug that induced severe nausea. Take your vitamins, watch some violent vids, get sick. Yeah. That’s aversion therapy. In Alex’s case it was designed to make him averse to violent behavior. (It quite possibly put him off his vitamins, too.)
“Adverse” is also an adjective, and it means “preventing success or development; harmful; unfavorable.” (Thanks again to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary.) In extreme winter weather, with sleet, snow, freezing rain, sub-zero temperatures and so on, we are warned to take care while driving “under adverse conditions.” Conditions are not prime for safe driving; they are unfavorable. The related noun is “adversity.”
So. When someone asks if you’re up for trying some new cuisine, and you’re game, you might answer by saying: “I’m not averse to new things.” You’re not opposed to them. If you say “I’m not adverse to new things,” you’re saying “I’m not harmful to new things.” I’m sure there’s some situation in which that’s appropriate — but honestly, I can’t think of one right at the moment.
Averse (to) = opposed to, against, revolted by. Perhaps this last one will be most helpful, since both “aVerse” and “reVolted” contain the letter V.
Adverse = bad. There’s a D in “aDverse,” and a D in “baD.”
The title of the book and film is “Anthony Adverse,” by the way. My costar in “Lemonade,” a one-act play we did in college, continually said “Anthony Averse.” I nearly took adverse measures to correct her, after the fiftieth time (or thereabouts).