Uneasy vs. Uneased

By Maeve Maddox

I read the following quotation in a newspaper account of a local city council meeting:

I’m uneased by the fact that we have land in the city [that is not zoned].

Surely, the councilman meant to say that he was “uneasy about the fact”!

At once I began a Web search and discovered that this strange use of uneased is not—so far—in the millions, but it’s out there in the thousands:

I am uneased by heights, but I love zip-lining for some reason.

I am personally uneased by even letting my kid walk to the front door by himself.

They were uneased by your appearance and took a few days before getting used to seeing you about town.

It’s not always clear what uneased in the expression “uneased by” is intended to convey. Sometimes, as in the councilman’s quotation, it seems to be used where uneasy would be idiomatic, but sometimes it seems to mean uncomfortable, in pain, or frightened. In the following paragraph on a professional medical site, any of the four could be intended:

A mammogram should never be painful. This common conception is the reason many women put off scheduling their annual mammograms. If you ever are uneased, inform your mammography technologist so that they may alleviate your discomfort.

Note: This illustrative quotation contains other writing errors, but for now, let’s just consider uneased.

The word ease can be either a noun or a verb. For example:

Miss Hannigan desired a life of ease. (noun)
We admire aid workers who ease the suffering of refugees. (verb)

The verb ease (ease, eased, has eased) has acquired numerous meanings since its earliest OED citation:

to give ease to (1340)
to relieve or lighten a burden (1374)
to give ease of mind (1385)
to relieve the bowels (1440)
to relax (1863)
to make to fit (1891)
to break in gently (1892)

The following examples (all in past tense) illustrate these meanings:

Joplin home eased orphans’ plight

Following advice he had received from Pollard, Woolf had eased up on Seabiscuit, allowing his horse to see his rival, then asked for more effort. 

The home mortgage market improved last quarter as demand increased and many banks eased their lending standards for the most creditworthy borrowers,

Black and White Ointment quickly eased the itching, burn and sting.

The A & E crisis hitting hospitals all over the country could be eased if the paperwork burden was eased on family doctors.

Defra has eased restrictions on the movement of animals in England.

The man eased the injured foot into a shoe.

The carpenter planed and eased the dragging door.

The new governor eased the misery of the people by lowering taxes.

Confessing to the lie eased his conscience.

Far removed from the conveniences of indoor plumbing, the people eased themselves in the bushes.

A conscience or a pain might go uneased, but in standard usage, people are uneasy about things that bother them.

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