YOU ARE HERE: Glendale HomeCollectionsGoogle

A Word, Please:

Eager to please

May 12, 2010|By June Casagrande

Carol in Florida wrote recently about “anxious” and “eager.” Here’s what she said: “When someone says they are so anxious to hear the wonderful news, all I can picture is the person shaking, waiting in fear, biting their nails and pacing the floor to hear the news. That sounds like a pretty negative word to me and I just can’t see why they wouldn’t want to use eager — a much more positive word to describe what they mean.”

The use of “anxious” to express positive anticipation is widespread. When I do a Google search for the term “I’m anxious to,” I see that most of the hits on the first few pages are people using the word to express that they’re happily looking forward to something.

The first hit is a quotation from former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who said that she was leaving that job in large part because she was “anxious to join” her family salmon fishing in Alaska. The next four hits are “I’m anxious to work on ‘Batman,’” “Six spring chores I’m anxious to do,” “Games in 2010 I’m anxious to buy” and “Phillies spring training: three players I’m anxious to see.”


So the first five Google hits are all examples of people using “anxious” in a way that makes a lot of word lovers, well, anxious.

“Anxious, eager. Both words convey the notion of being desirous, but anxious has an underlay of faint apprehension,” writes Theodore Bernstein in the influential 1965 book “The Careful Writer.”

He has an interesting theory as to why so many people use “anxious” where “eager” might be more accurate. “Eager,” he says, “is more a writer’s word than a speaker’s word?.?.?.?the word is not frequently used in spoken language. In writing, however, both words are common, and since they are, the careful writer will discriminate between them, reserving anxious for the situation in which some anxiety is involved.”

Bryan Garner of “Garner’s Modern American Usage” shares that opinion: “When no sense of uneasiness is attached to the situation, ‘anxious’ isn’t the best word.”

I don’t know when I first became aware of the “anxious” vs. “eager” issue, but ever since I have tried to reserve “anxious” for things I dread and use “eager” for things I look forward to. So I try never to say “I’m anxious to begin my vacation” (unless, of course, I’m vacationing with family).

Glendale News-Press Articles Glendale News-Press Articles