Archive for January 2011

I’m a little wary to post this. Or is it leery? Or weary?

January 16, 2011

Lately I’ve heard a lot of people say that they’re “weary” when referring to being reluctant or suspicious about doing something.  That’s not uncommon, but then I heard is on NPR (gasp!) via a reporter.  Hard to believe.

But not really.  Because, you see, over time language changes.  Words come in from other languages, words fade out of use or change meaning, pronunciation changes.  People confuse one word for another, it hits the mainstream, and before you know it the language has altered in a tiny way. Let’s take the following sentence:

James is feeling a little (XXXX) about letting Bill borrow his shovel.

For now, the dictionary still reads thusly (all definitions from

Weary: 1 : exhausted in strength, endurance, vigor, or freshness 2: expressing or characteristic of weariness <a weary sign> 3: having one’s patience, tolerance, or pleasure exhausted —used with of <soon grew weary of waiting>

So, James isn’t feeling tired about letting Bill take his shovel, he’s having reservations. Let’s try another word:

Leery: : suspicious, wary —often used with of <leery of strangers> for example: They were leery of their neighbors.

and this: Wary:  marked by keen caution, cunning, and watchfulness especially in detecting and escaping danger for example: The store owner kept a wary eye on him.

Weary is obviously not the correct word in this context. But I hear it often.  I suspect maybe folks are combining “wary” and “leery” to make “weary.”  And eventually the dictionary may reflect this.

For now, though, it’s not a good idea to send a business email expressing your “weariness” about hiring John Doe or about making an upcoming presentation.