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Keith Ablow, the Fox News Channel's resident expert on psychiatry, on Outnumbered, 6/26/2014, explaining why the World Cup is a plot to distract the masses from Benghazi or whatever:

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I'm suspect. Uh I am suspect. Because here's the thing,
Um why at a time when there're so many national issues that-
and international issues that are of such prominence,
I- I'm a little suspicious of yet another bread and circus routine.
Let's roll out the marijuana, pull back the laws, and
get people even more crazy about yet another entertainment event.

Since this is Language Log rather than Paranoid Politics Log, my interest here is not the content of Dr. Ablow's outburst, but its form: specifically, his use of suspect to mean suspicious.
Dictionaries haven't caught up with this usage yet, glossing the adjectival form of suspect as "regarded or deserving to be regarded with suspicion" rather than "suspicious", but it seems to be Out There:

So I'm supect of an Autoimune issue.
Was sat next to someone who I'm supect is going to grow up to be a serial killer.
What whould be nice is if I could add dist-bin and dist-src to the dist and dist-all targets, but I'm supect that it's not possible.
I'm supect that, like some others here, that Colt was subjected to a lot of "store fingerin'".
I was testing Iodide also, but my Salifert kit is old and I'm supect of the results I've gotten lately.
That's another reason I'm supect of the mpg's some of you guys are reporting.
Both of their spring sets are basically the same price as is Autotech's, which is why I'm supect of Autotech springs too.

It's common to see this sort of shift between "causes Y"and "experiences Y", as in the case of nauseous. In written examples, it's tempting to suspect a slip of the fingers, which often substitutes one form of a word for another (e.g. "suspicion" for "suspecting" or the like). So it's good to get a spoken example, and one where the key word is repeated.

But still, I wonder: Is suspect undergoing this shift across the meme pool, or is Dr. Ablow an isolated mutation?

[For more of the clip's context, see Catherine Thompson, "Fox Panelist: World Cup Is A Way For Obama To 'Distract People'", TPM 6/26.2014.]

Update — since I typed "suspect" as "supect" in a rush yesterday, and failed to notice the typo is a hurried cut-and-paste of the results, here are some examples where the adjective is spelled correctly:

I'm Suspect of Pragmatic Practitioners
Clearly it's impossible for an honest player to win any game. I'm suspect of anyone who doesn't have a perfect losing streak.
And it's a reason why I'm suspect when it comes to Kansas City mounting a challenge in the American League Central this season.
I'm suspect of this one, but I'm game.
With our winter so far this year, I'm suspect that this April will look like last year at the lake.
I'm suspect that what's going on here is that Nfsen assumes that the converted files contain five minutes worth of data, while they really contain fifteen minutes
There is no official reason for this delay but we're suspect that some bug has occured which just needed a bit more working on.
We're suspect that they would not provide the information," said Pastor R.L. Gundy, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
We're suspect that the price of gold is being manipulated

And it seems that Dr. Ablow has been promoting the same theory on other Fox programs, though apparently without the interesting use of suspect. Reaction by Stephen Colbert is here.



  1. Vance Maverick said,

    June 26, 2014 @ 8:28 pm

    Your "out there" search seems to have had a typo ("supect" for "suspect"), but without that, the results are still striking (including some semi-formal writing).

  2. Buzz said,

    June 26, 2014 @ 8:32 pm

    I noticed some teenagers using this about twenty-five years ago. It struck me as odd, since there didn't seem to be any need for it in the language. "Suspicious" seemed like it ought to work fine. However, now that I look back on it, this sense may have been created partial by analogy with "suspicious," since that work can be used in either fashion; "I am suspicious," can be an expression of my unease about something, or somebody else's unease about me.

  3. jdmartinsen said,

    June 26, 2014 @ 8:53 pm

    The sentence — "I'm suspect." — is something I use, and its seems totally natural to me. I don't think I've ever used it in writing, but it's something I've used in speech without a second thought. "I'm suspect of …" in the search results sounds weird.

  4. RW said,

    June 26, 2014 @ 9:37 pm

    Examples 2, 3 and 4 appear to be an accidental replacement of "I" with "I'm" rather than a use of "suspect" to mean "suspicious".

  5. Lauren said,

    June 26, 2014 @ 9:53 pm

    I agree with RW's assessment and suspect (ha) that's probably the more common explanation, with the form discussed in the post just being a case of people occasionally making a mistake, as happens to everyone. I could be wrong, I guess.

    I'm interested in the nauseous/nauseated thing, though. Are there other examples of this type of shift?

  6. Keith M Ellis said,

    June 26, 2014 @ 10:00 pm

    Nearly twenty years ago, precipitated by an argument with my girlfriend, I made a trek to the library to consult the full edition of the OED for the etymology of nauseous. What I recall, somewhat validated just now by googling, is that the etymology doesn't support a simple "causes Y" to "experiences Y" shift. Rather, its first usage was closer to "experiences Y", then other stuff happened, then for awhile it was "causes Y" and now it's strongly an "experiences Y".

    Early adulthood habit as the result of aspirational accumulation of cultural capital has meant that I long ago acquired an exclusive "causes Y" usage and I can't shake it even though for twenty years it's felt both a bit wrong and a bit of an affectation. (Well, er, rather that I use nauseated where others use nauseous. I avoid nauseous entirely and prefer nauseating.)

    In any case, just within the hour I had seen this quote over at TPM and marveled at it, wondering if I should email LL.

    My sense is that maybe in this and some other cases this usage comes by way of the rarefied "X is suspect" usage — after all, suspicious more commonly functions both as "causes Y" ("X is suspicious") and "experiences Y" ("I am suspicious"), with suspect only appearing as a verb ("I suspect X"). Suspect as a noun outside the context of law enforcement is relatively rare; a usage such as "the argument X is suspect" rather than "the argument X is suspicious" is a shibboleth. It's possible that Ablow's usage is a (failed?) attempt at that register.

  7. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 26, 2014 @ 10:43 pm

    jdmartinsen: Just out of curiosity, which syllable do you accent?

    Lauren: I seem to be incapable of coherent thought at the moment, so I'm not going to check word histories, but you might consider sad, happy, gay (before a more recent shift), cheerful, hateful, dreadful, fearful, pitiful, doubtful, and dubious.

    This reminds me of a shift that happens in verbs, such as the non-standard uses of lie/lay, raise/rise, etc.

  8. pep said,

    June 27, 2014 @ 12:49 am

    "its first usage was closer to "experiences Y", then other stuff happened, then for awhile it was "causes Y" and now it's strongly an "experiences Y"."

    I guess the same thing happens with Catalan "angoixós":

    wich meant at the beggining "he/she who suffers from anxiety" and later on added the other meaning of "someone/something that causes anxiety".

    (but then again, looking at the definition of Castillian angustioso -, the direction of the change seems to have been the opposite. Besides, come to think of it, why does Catalan "Sospitós" mean suspect instead of suspicious? I guess I have to refresh my lessons about adjective derivation)

    Another example from another Romance language: in Ligurian "angóscia non significa ansia, affanno ma nausea e, figuratamente, avversione, ripugnanza. Però un tipo angosciôzo è uno noioso, uno che infastidisce." (

    as for dubious, in Catalan it is a word that too has a …well, dubious meaning

  9. James said,

    June 27, 2014 @ 3:31 am

    I was going to mention 'doubtful' and 'dubious'.

    For a long time I thought these did mean, respectively, experiencing doubt and causing doubt (roughly), but a friend strongly disagreed and I checked and he was right. Each word has both meanings.

  10. Austin Voigt said,

    June 27, 2014 @ 3:42 am

    This was a hilarious post to read. I love when people confuse similar words, especially in conversations. I always have to hold myself back from either, A. laughing at them hysterically, or B. correcting them so they stop making fools of themselves. Thanks for this!

  11. Jonathan said,

    June 27, 2014 @ 3:44 am

    Well "suspicious" can mean either "regarded with suspicion" or "regarding with suspicion" e.g. "this sushi seems suspicious" or "I'm suspicious of this sushi". Given that suspect already means "regarded with suspicion" the analogy with "suspicious" appears straightforward and we'd expect "suspect" to acquire the second meaning.

  12. Aaron Toivo said,

    June 27, 2014 @ 4:26 am

    Ummm, is there a reason why all the quoted examples have "supect" instead of "suspect"?

    [(myl) Oops. This was a 10-minute post, 8 minutes of which was spent getting the audio clips. As I was heading out the door, I apparently searched for "I'm supect" thinking that I typed "I'm suspect", and then cut-and-pasted the likely examples into the post, managing somehow to not see the error. Back from a day out and about in Beijing, I'm embarrassed…

    But if you search for the correct version, you'll find some likely examples.]

  13. John Roth said,

    June 27, 2014 @ 6:20 am

    While I find all of the examples (ignoring the spelling error) to be wrong, I find "That's suspect" to be fine. That seems to be more a difference between an attribute and experiencer, rather than a cause and experiencer. Using suspect as an attribute synonymous with suspicious works for me, while using it as experiencer (I'm suspect) doesn't.

    In fact, I can imagine using "I'm suspect" as an attribute of self, although I'm at a loss to find an example of where it would be actually useful right now.

  14. Bob Lieblich said,

    June 27, 2014 @ 6:24 am

    I frequently see TV commercials in which we are informed that a given automobile is "much awarded." That is plainly intended to mean not that the car is given as a prize but that it has received many awards. I've also seen "usurp" with the individual rather than his/her position as the direct object: "John usurped his company's board chairman."

  15. D-AW said,

    June 27, 2014 @ 7:34 am

    Could "suspect" be influenced by "circumspect", here? A mishearing or jumble? I can imagine scenarios where "circumspect" could be mistaken for "suspect, adj".

  16. biagio said,

    June 27, 2014 @ 7:34 am

    Can you get a degree in psychiatry with such a good command of the English language?

  17. Theophylact said,

    June 27, 2014 @ 8:51 am

    The phrase "Fox News Channel's resident expert" is itself suspect.

  18. Rodger C said,

    June 27, 2014 @ 10:23 am

    @Theophylact: I would have said it's supposititious.

  19. Don said,

    June 27, 2014 @ 12:14 pm

    In his Common Errors in English Usage site, Professor Paul Brians has an entry on suspect/suspicious, so the usage is Out There enough for him to find it noteworthy. He says, "It never makes sense to say 'I am suspect that . . . '"

  20. Rebecca said,

    June 27, 2014 @ 3:15 pm

    Looking at the video returns of a google search on "I'm suspect" shows that it's not too hard to find other spoken examples, so it does seem to be out there.

  21. Peter Taylor said,

    June 29, 2014 @ 3:00 am

    @Keith M. Ellis,

    a usage such as "the argument X is suspect" rather than "the argument X is suspicious" is a shibboleth.

    Both COCA (165 vs 132) and BNC (33 vs 21) have more hits for "is suspect" than "is suspicious".

  22. Ikiru said,

    June 29, 2014 @ 12:12 pm

    Anyone have any thoughts on "store fingerin' "?

  23. Dan said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 10:57 am


    My guess is that it has to do with fingerprints on a gun (since it mentions a capital-c Colt), probably one that was later involved in a crime. "Store fingerin'", in that context, may refer to "a bunch of irrelevant fingerprints acquired when patrons of a shop handled the firearm in question," presumably interfering with the investigation.

  24. Dan H said,

    July 4, 2014 @ 11:57 am

    Both COCA (165 vs 132) and BNC (33 vs 21) have more hits for "is suspect" than "is suspicious".

    Might some of the hits for "is suspect" actually be hits for "is suspected"? Or be using "is suspect" to mean "is a suspect" rather than "is suspicious".

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