July 10, 2014

Weekly Language Usage Tips: overweight

Posted in overweight at 7:01 am by dlseltzer

A reader writes:

What is your take on using “overweight” as a noun? I am currently editing a paper with sentences like this:

“Childhood overweight and obesity remain major health conditions affecting nearly one third of children in the United States.”

“Multiple factors have been identified that contribute to the development of overweight and obesity.”

“[Participants] were asked their opinion about causes and ways to prevent child overweight.”

I have done a few literature searches and have seen more examples of this usage in bioscience, but I have noticed two things: (1) there are not a lot of papers with this usage; (2) many of these papers appear to be written by ESL/EFL writers.

Anyway, because the noun “overweightness” is not a word in any of my dictionaries, I am inclined to revise all instances of overweight as a noun by adding the present participle “being” to convert “overweight” into its common form: adjective.

Thanks for your feedback.

I hate this usage and will continue to correct it when I run into it. The argument could be made that using ‘overweight’ as a noun is medical jargon, and I can see that. However, jargon doesn’t trump incorrect usage, and using ‘overweight’ as a noun is incorrect. So, as I said, I would change this.

But, as we so often say, language evolves. Some reason that since ‘weight’ is a noun, ‘overweight’ should be okay, too. I don’t buy that. I remain unconvinced. But in medicine,  using ‘overweight’ as a noun is becoming more common, and I expect that, eventually, ‘overweight’ will become accepted as a noun in medical jargon.  But we aren’t there yet. For now, let’s respect the adjective.


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