The Adjective is “Immune”

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I recently saw the word “immuned” used as an adjective in place of immune. A web search shows that this nonstandard use is proliferating.

Am I Immuned to Herpes??

Muslims immuned from swine flu symptoms

Breast cancer awareness month 2009: Men are not immuned

How can I be immuned to getting strep?

My husband is in the hospital, he does drugs, lowered immuned system,?

Merriam-Webster provides an entry for “immuned” as an adjective, with the notation “used chiefly of domestic animals” It does not, however, have an entry for a verb that might have produced the form “immuned.” So far the unfortunate coinage has not found its way into the pages of the OED.

The adjective immune is a back formation of the noun immunity.

immunity (late 14th century): a legal term meaning “exempt from service or obligation”

immune (mid-15th century): a legal term meaning “free; exempt.”

The verb to immunize and the noun immunization came into the language along with the improved medical technique in the 19th century.

immunize:  To make (an organism) immune to a pathogen, disease, or antigen; esp. to administer a vaccine, antiserum, antigen, etc.

immunization:  Med. (and Biol.). The production of immunity in an organism; esp. inoculation or vaccination against a disease. Also: the administration of a vaccine, antiserum, antigen, etc

When immune is used in the sense of “exempt,” the particle “from” follows it:

Health-Care Shocker” Shows Nobody is Immune from Insurance Company Abuses

Security Contractors Immune from Torture Charges, Judges Rule

When the sense is “not receptive to,” the particle is “to”:

Old People May Be Immune to Swine Flu

Strange Creature Immune to Pain

Macs no longer immune to viruses, experts say

Bottom line: if your goal is to speak or write a standard form of English, you must abjure the use of “immuned.”

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13 thoughts on “The Adjective is “Immune””

  1. As you say “this nonstandard use is proliferating.”

    Trying Googling the word “stucked.”

    273,000 entries!


  2. Sadly Maeve the language is changing rapidly, and not for the better. Some examples:

    Remember when we used to “protest” things? Now, it seems we have to “protest against” things, as though we had the option of “protesting for” as well. I just Googled “protest against.” Result? 4.1 million pages with this phrase.

    When watching motor sport on TV, I regularly hear “softer of the two tires.” As opposed to softer of the three?

    And the use of the word “random” has changed so much I never know these days what people mean.

    I could go on, an on…


  3. @Paul: It “protest against” so bad? Maybe it’s an AmE/BrE thing because you say “Remember when we used to ‘protest’ things?”, which is a phrase I’ve never heard in England.

    After all, “they protest nuclear weapons” makes no sense, and even saying “they protest about nuclear weapons” could be ambiguous (they could be complaining that there are not enough of them or that they’re in the wrong place), hence “they protest against nuclear weapons” is clear, unambiguous and not redundant.

    However, as is so often the case, it may be better to avoid the problem by rewording. For example “The protesters are campaigning for nuclear disarmament”.

    As for “the softer of two tyres [BrE]”, presumably they want to cater for viewers new to motorsport who many not realise they are limited to two types of tyre.

  4. And Paul, don’t worry about “random”. It’s just teenage slang. Remember that our parents/grandparents were equally unhappy about words such as “cool” and “wicked” being adapted.

  5. @Cecily: But I do worry about the word “random.”

    I don’t believe it is just teenage slang. I had a conversation with my 22 year-old son just last night, and the sad fact is he doesn’t know the correct meaning of the word, and admitted, neither do any of his friends.

    I think this is one word, the meaning of which, has now changed permanently.

  6. @Cecily: Just for the record, I am British by birth, Canadian by choice, but have spent the past twenty years in Southeast Asia. So, I am familiar with many variations of the English language.

    In your example “The protesters are campaigning for nuclear disarmament” I would argue that if they are in favor of something, they are not protesters. A quick on-line dictionary search tells me that “protest” means “to execute or have executed a formal protest against” or “to make a statement or gesture in objection to.” In both definitions, a protest is against something.

    And, sorry, but I don’t agree with your comment on “the softer of” because that very statement indicates there are only two choices. To add “of the two” is redundant.

  7. @Paul: Gosh, you’re in an ideal position to comment on differences between English usage on different continents.

    Protest against: Yes, my example was not a great one. “The protesters are campaigning against nuclear weapons” would have been better. Nevertheless, it is still the case that until now, the only context I think I have ever heard “protest” without a following preposition such as “against” is in phrases such as “protest his innocence”. To my British ears, “I protest taxes” is awkward and unclear.

    Random: I think in the context of youthful slang, 22 counts as a teenager (just don’t tell a 22 year old). Perhaps “random” has gained a new meaning permanently (I don’t think it will totally replace the meaning used in “random numbers”, for example), but so has “cool”. It’s not something I lose sleep over.

  8. @Cecily: Your last sentence is interesting. Should we lose sleep when words change their meaning? Probably not. They’ve been doing it since languages were invented. I wonder though, where do you draw the line between redefining a word and misusing it?

    Words are no use unless everyone knows what they mean. So when people say “random” and they understand one thing, and I another, I’d class this as misuse. As you say “random” will continue to be used correctly, in the context of random numbers, so I think it will only spread confusion, if it gets a second meaning.

    As for “protest” I guess its meaning has already changed. I don’t think it’s your British ears, it’s just now so common for people to “protest against” that to most people it sounds correct.

    I found this sentence today in the Canadian press:

    “A few hundred warehouse workers and drivers at Danish brewer Carlsberg halted work for a second day on Thursday to protest a company decision to limit beer drinking at work to lunch breaks.”

    Does that sound wrong? To me, it’s just fine. The dictionary definition still says that “protest” implies “against” and I would argue it is impossible to “protest for.” To my mind that’s an oxymoron.

    And yet, if I Google “protest for” it seems there are 386,000 web authors who don’t agree with me! “Argue for” – yes. “Protest for” – silly.

    But maybe you’ll protest;-)

  9. @Paul: Although I don’t lose sleep over language change, I certainly know people who claim to.

    The distinction I was trying to make was between ADDING a new meaning (e.g. random and cool) and a CHANGE in meaning (few would now argue that “nice” still means foolish). English is full of words that have multiple meanings, so I don’t necessarily see two meanings of random as being a problem. See and for interesting examples and discussion of polysemy. If your audience doesn’t understand what you meant, yes, you have misused language in that context, but that doesn’t necessarily invalidate the other meanings when used appropriately.

    To me, “to protest a company decision” still sounds wrong. I’m not arguing that it’s ungrammatical, but it is certainly unfamiliar. I agree that you can’t “protest for” anything, but for this 40-something Brit, that doesn’t avoid the need for the implied “against” to be made explicit. I have seen it stated elsewhere that BrE favours intransitive “protest”, while AmE allows transitive, so perhaps that’s the crux of it.

    Google hits are interesting for gauging the zeitgeist, but you have to be careful: “banananana” has nearly a quarter of a million hits!

  10. I’d love to hear a definitive (if such a thing is possible) explanation of the newish teenage slang “random.”

  11. “The protesters are campaigning for nuclear disarmament” just has an implied but unstated clause “The protesters (against the use of nuclear weapons) are campaigning for nuclear disarmament” – but then, the more you can leave out of Australian English the better

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