My wife and I have discovered another divergence in our understanding of an English word (cf. sleet); this time it’s woozy. It turns out she understands this to mean a slight feeling of nausea (for her, it’s synonymous with queasy); for me, it means ‘dizzy.’ I turned to AHD to see what lexicography had to say, and discovered, to my horror, the following:

1. Dazed or confused.
2. Dizzy or queasy.

“Dizzy or queasy”? What the hell kind of definition is that? You might as well define a word as “Cat or bedspread.” When I’m dizzy, I’m not queasy, and vice versa; I can imagine having both conditions at once, just as a cat can on occasion serve as a sort of bedspread, but come on. So I tried M-W:

1 : mentally unclear or hazy // seems a little woozy, not quite knowing what to say— J. A. Lukacs
2 : affected with dizziness, mild nausea, or weakness
3 : having a soft, indistinct, or unfocused quality : vague, fuzzy

That’s even worse: “dizziness, mild nausea, or weakness” (“a cat, a bedspread, or a napkin”). Finally, the OED (not fully updated since 1928) has:

1. Dizzy or unsteady as when fuddled with drink; muzzy; ‘dotty’.
1897 Voice (N.Y.) 22 Apr. 3/2 In the woozy lexicon of the voting church there is no such word as power. […]
2. Representing or marked by muddled thinking or unclear expression; lacking rigour or discipline; sloppy.
1941 W. H. Auden New Year Let. ii. 37 All vague idealistic art..Is up his alley, and his pigeon The woozier species of religion. […]

I don’t often say this sort of thing, but woozy seems like a completely useless word, since it’s impossible to know what it means. At any rate, I turn to the assembled Hatters: what does woozy mean to you?


  1. Dizzy, with queasy overtones. E.g. after getting off a rollercoaster or having drunk too much. Queasiness often accompanies dizziness, but I wouldn’t describe myself as “woozy” if I just had tummy trouble or had witnessed something heave-inducing.

  2. And dazed OR confused? Surely it’s Dazed and Confused.

    Bugger the dictionaries, woozy is how you feel when you’ve taken medicinal drugs that have dulled your senses.

  3. My first association with “woozy” is closer to the “dazed and confused” definition, but I would accept it for both meanings. That being said, “dizzy” and “queasy” don’t seem as dissimilar to me as they do to you; they both involve being physically disoriented in an unpleasant way.

  4. But one involves your gut and the other your head. I have never found the distinction hard to make.

  5. Woozy is dizzy in a more neutral sense whereas queasy is dizzy in a negative sense.
    If you describe yourself as queasy after a few sherbets then you are dizzy and think you might vomit but if you feel woozy then you’re just light-headed.

  6. For me, “woozy” means neither dizzy or queasy in their literal senses; it means mentally unclear or hazy, as in M-W definition 1. I might feel woozy because I’d just woken up, or because I was pharmaceutically impaired.

  7. Haha, yep! I’m prepared to lean into this ambiguity. If you’re dizzy or queasy, you can say dizzy or queasy. If your feet are out from underneath you in a /particularly/ ambiguous way, “woozy” is ready for service!
    It’s the cat you can wipe your mouth on when the napkin is hissing and scratching.

  8. The “dizzy or queasy” definition fits perfectly with how I use/understand wooziness (brought up in the UK, now in my 30’s). Dizzy and queasy can be quite distinct in general, sure, but they often come inextricably entwined, as in motion sickness or a bad hangover — you could call it a combination of the two, or a single intermediate feeling — and that’s wooziness. So the definition seems to me as reasonable as describing turquoise as “a shade of blue or green”.

  9. David Eddyshaw says

    “A bit faint, mildly confused.”

    That might lead to feelings of nausea, indeed, but I would never call feelings of nausea in themselves “wooziness.”

    I hereby officially anathematise such a wilful misuse of language. Consider the matter settled henceforward.

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    I would add to Jon W’s comment the notion that wooziness captures the not-yet-actualized possibility of dizziness or queasiness. For example, you’re coming out from under anesthesia and you’re just fine and not actually dizzy while lying in the hospital bed, but you plausibly suspect that if you were to try to get out of bed and stand up dizziness would be likely to manifest itself promptly. You’re not, as of that moment, dizzy, but you are woozy. (The parallel anticipatory queasiness is ones stomach at the exact moment feeling unremarkable but sensing that trying to change the situation by actually eating something or even having a plate of food placed in front of you would not lead to anything good happening.)

  11. I would add to Jon W’s comment the notion that wooziness captures the not-yet-actualized possibility of dizziness or queasiness. For example, you’re coming out from under anesthesia and you’re just fine and not actually dizzy while lying in the hospital bed, but you plausibly suspect that if you were to try to get out of bed and stand up dizziness would be likely to manifest itself promptly. You’re not, as of that moment, dizzy, but you are woozy.

    OK, I can see that. I withdraw my accusation of complete uselessness.

  12. Speedwell says

    Doesn’t dizziness make you queasy? What species are you? 😀

    I used to get a lot of ear infections as a kid and I had Meniere’s Disease, and I’m all too familiar with the word, and the sensation of being “woozy” itself. For me it means not only dizzy and somewhat nauseated, but also dull and tired on top of that. It’s the main reason I am always the abstainer in the room when people are getting drunk or high… that is the miserable way I experience both.

  13. To me it means I’m in between queasy and dizzy, and not sure which yet. As suggested, if I get off a roller coaster, I’m woozy, until I start feeling sick, when I’m queasy.

  14. OK, my experiences have clearly not been of a nature to allow me to sufficiently appreciate the value of this word. I’m glad to know others find it useful!

  15. Yeah, woozy is a temporary condition that will either recede soon, or develop into dizziness or nausea. It’s not-quite-rightness.

  16. Woozy is what you feel if you’re hypotensive, and you stand up too quickly. If you then pass out, you are no longer woozy. It’s interesting (I guess) that various paradigmatic instances of woozyness are drug-induced, so there’s something there besides dizziness or vertigo.

  17. I don’t generally comment, but this particularly resonated with me, because trying to get neurologists to understand that wooziness is not the same as nausea has been a subplot in my last 15 years of migraine treatment. For me, when I say a migraine — or the predrome phase of the migraine — sometimes makes me woozy, I don’t mean I feel nauseous and I don’t mean vertigo. I mean I feel *woozy* – out of focus and a little off balance (but not in a coordination-impacting way), a little like a fever or the side effects of cold medicine. The most recent neurologist nodded at this clarification and prescribed me anti-nausea meds that have sat untouched on my desk.

  18. I think I agree with Jon W. and J.W. above; I think of “woozy” as a mild, non-localized befuddlement or sensory impairment which makes the world seem a bit off because something in your body is a bit off – Bill’s “out of focus and a little off balance” sounds about right. If that same sensation of “not-rightness” grew strong enough and localized enough to be called nausea, I wouldn’t think of it as wooziness any more, and if the room started spinning because I was dizzy I probably wouldn’t think of it as wooziness either.

    However, I think this is all a bit more complicated than that because nausea and dizziness are both also often accompanied by a woozy feeling, if that makes sense, which it probably doesn’t.

  19. Enervated. The feeling when I’ve been awake far too long. Light-headed. The feeling when I stand up and get a headrush. Unsteady, but not spinning like “dizzy”. Rarely associated with nausea, except when I’ve just given blood and haven’t yet had the post-phlebotomy orange juice.

    Also, I’m under a cat/bedspread right now.

  20. Woozy when you can’t quite define it?

  21. I associate woozy with the symptoms of a mild concussion. E.g. “the running back looked woozy after the linebacker laid him out.” For me it is a far more serious condition than “dizzy”.

  22. Richard Hershberger says

    “a completely useless word, since it’s impossible to know what it means.”

    Heh. Early baseball had a rule about the pitcher’s delivery that the ball had to be “pitched, not jerked or thrown.” This was on the books for about fifteen years, despite the unclarity about what either “jerked” or “thrown” meant. Both words were borrowed from the laws of cricket, so the natural thing is to look at how cricket used these words. This also turns out not to be clear. There was a consensus that involving the elbow constituted a throw, but disagreement about whether the wrist entered into this. As for a jerk, that was even less clear. Most thought it had something to do with the arm touching the body, probably in an effort to snap the arm around the body for more speed or spin. But at least one authority said no, that has nothing to do with it, and while he couldn’t describe what a jerk was, he certainly knew one when he saw it. Well, that was unhelpful. Baseball eventually dropped the language because they thought maybe they had been throwing the ball all along, though not everyone agreed, and because the prohibition on jerking the ball was just mysterious.

  23. AJP Crown says

    Outside mainland N.America one of the basic social rules that every 5-year-old learns is that the bowler must not bend their bowling arm at the elbow. If they do so, it’s a throw; which is a no ball.

  24. I’m with those who say the word’s lack of precision is a feature, not a bug. Which is to say, if I felt “queasy” or “dizzy” I’d say precisely that. But wooziness for me is a more general, less intense feeling of being out of sorts for some reason, neither in the stomach nor in the head precisely, but a bit in both.

  25. Yeah, it’s clear to me now that that’s a thing, but since it’s not a thing I have experienced (or at least remember experiencing), I was underestimating the usefulness of the word.

  26. Dizzy and not thinking clearly. No stomach association for me.

  27. For me, woozy would be the feeling that you can’t quite stand right. But not the same as dizzy. Including I can imagine wooziness caused by nausea, but not dizziness caused by nausea. Dizziness is a head thing, wooziness more a body thing. Not the same as either queasy or dizzy, but commonalities with both.

  28. For me, dizzy is the feeling you get when you spin youself around and around until you fall over. Nausea is a feeling that you are about to vomit and woozy is a feeling that you are about to faint. Woozyness can come with orthostatic hypotension if you stand up to quickly.

  29. AJP Crown says

    Woozyness can come with orthostatic hypotension if you stand up to quickly.

    I thought that was lightheadedness.

  30. One of the things that was beaten in to us early in medical school was that people mean a wide range of things when they say “dizzy,” and clarifying exactly what is meant is really important for narrowing down what is going on and what should be done thereafter. The most important distinction:

    • Vertigo is the sensation of the room spinning around you.
    • Pre-syncope is the sensation that you’re going to faint, and if “light-headed” is used in the vernacular this is fairly consistently what is meant.

    Vaso-vagal syncope, the most common type of syncope, and the “faint” of the vernacular, will also give nausea, occasional vomiting, and general clamminess. Severe vertigo (an intractable BPPV) will give vomiting. All these experiences are so closely linked for most people that it’s pointless to assume anything about one use of the related words without further clarification.

  31. I don’t think I had a clear idea of what “woozy” meant until I had surgery. Waking up from general anesthesia, I immediately understood though. It was a combination of lassitude, dizziness, and a bit of queasiness, although it was clear that these were all just symptoms of a generalized condition of poor central nervous functioning.

  32. I had to look up the definition of queasy to discover that it indeed does not overlap with dizzy, but I run into both this and woozy rarely enough that I may have been just confusing the two.

    Rarely as adjectives at least: I’ve had one or two British acquaintances who sprinkled around quite liberally the epithet a (real) woozy for things awesome.

  33. I’ve had one or two British acquaintances who sprinkled around quite liberally the epithet a (real) woozy for things awesome.

    Really? As this sense of woozy is unattested by any dictionary, I think either you or they must be confusing the word with doozy.

  34. Martin Langeveld says

    My grandmother used a Dutch dialectical expression (‘t is als of ik in een vaartuug zit) that to me epitomizes wooziness. It translates to “It feels like [or I feel as if] I’m sitting in a [sea-going] vessel.” In other words, wooziness is a combination of experiencing the imbalance or unsteadiness of being on a boat, plus a touch of seasickness. Dizzy + queasy.

  35. @Martin Langeveld: Is vaartuug cognate to “far tug”?

  36. just a guess but isn’t it the same as German “Fahrzeug”? … so, more like “faring contraption” and less like “far tug”

  37. @AG: Yeah, that’s almost certainly got to be right, although it’s less amusing.

  38. David Marjanović says

    Clearly the same as Fahrzeug (“vehicle with wheels”). Zeug used to mean “equipment”, but nowadays means “stuff”.

    Tug comes from the same root, but it’s not the same derivation: the vowel is short & single, and g at the end of English words (as in dog, frog, pig) comes from long gg, while short g (if preceded by a back vowel) has become w, as in tow or bow.

  39. Stu Clayton says

    Zeug used to mean “equipment”, but nowadays means “stuff”.

    Except in a certain parallel universe of philosophical philosophizing that split off in 1927. There “Zeug” is always already equipment. Either zuhanden, vorhanden or abhanden .

  40. Zeug used to mean “equipment”, but nowadays means “stuff”

    Compare Irish English yoke, “horse-drawn cart” > “vehicle” > “contraption” > “thing” > “thing that I can’t think of the word for”. Sometimes also “disagreeable person”, as in “s/he’s some yoke”.

  41. Stu Clayton says

    Local yokels.

    I imagine “yoke” and German Joch are related.

  42. Owlmirror says

    I think the dizzy-queasy combination is missing the lightheaded/lowered consciousness/half-asleep/half-awake element of wooziness.

    Feeling dizzy-queasy but still fully alert seems more like seasick or motion-sick, to me.

    Yes? No?

  43. speedwell says


    Definitely. That dull, miserable feeling of a bad headache but without the actual pain. Right you are. I have a suspicion it actually IS pain, but not felt with the same nerves, because I tried taking pain medication once for it, and it helped some.

  44. David Marjanović says

    I imagine “yoke” and German Joch are related.

    Of course.

  45. Martin Langeveld says

    Vaartuug is the Texel island dialect pronunciation of vaartuig, which is the proper Dutch word for vessel.

  46. That’s definitely the same as German zeug then.

  47. Unicode emojis:

    ????”woozy face”

    ????”dizzy face”

  48. John Cowan says

    For Gale and me, woozy means primarily ‘sleepy’, either of the pre-sleep or the post-sleep variety. ‘Lightheaded’ and ‘not thinking clearly’ are also present but secondary. ‘Dizzy’, possibly; ‘queasy’, definitely not.

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