Jealous vs. envious

All right, I think the rules have changed, because I remember learning some time ago that "jealous" and "envious" have different meanings. The reason why I'm bringing this up is because I rarely hear people use the word "envious," instead using the word "jealous" for all kinds of covetous situations, such as in this sample statement:

I'm really jealous of her--she has such a nice house.

Shouldn't the correct word be "envious"? I think it should (according to how they used to be delineated). You're envious of what people achieve, have, do, etc. Jealousy means something else--it has to do with love and devotion. For instance:

I'm really jealous of her--she is going out with the guy I've fallen in love with.

The speaker is jealous because the guy she likes is with someone else--it's a heart issue.

I tried to seek out the answer online, but there are conflicting opinions. So I'm wondering if the English language is again in a state of flux with these words (as has happened many times throughout its development).


Arrogant Polyglot said...

Oooooh, MJ! Good way to grab my attention. I did a little research in my Petit Robert (version électronique) to see what they have to say about jaloux vs. envieux. Both adjectives are perfectly equivalent to English jealous vs. envious.

It appears that your argument is on the right track. To be 'jealous' implies that you wish to possess the same intangible as someone else (ie. success, love, affection) whereas to be 'envious' means you desire something more tangible that some else possesses (ie. a house, a kick-ass universal remote control, a buff boyfriend).

When you think about it, you're right: it makes sense. But I think there are some items that fall into the grey zone. For example, are you jealous or envious of someone who speaks more than one language?

Point to ponder...

mj said...

Definitely envious of a multilingual person. But if you were in love with that multilingual person, and that person ended up with someone else, then you'd be jealous. :)

I feel certain of the distinction. Unfortunately, other people often exist in the gray zone.

Anonymous said...

My mom always defined the difference in terms of what you want the other person to have. If you're jealous, you want something instead of the other person, as in a boyfriend. If you're envious, you want one in addition to the other person, as in a new car.

mj said...

I don't totally get those definitions, but I still think it's more simple: another meaning for envy is to covet (you want what someone else has, such as a nice car) and jealousy is when the person you love loves someone else instead, or more.

Rick said...

You write: "I'm wondering if the English language is again in a state of flux..."
No, it's degeneration.
People are becoming sloppy, they can't be bothered engaging their brains anymore: 'fine' and 'well' are deleted as too complicated to differentiate, clumped together and replaced with, 'good'; 'discuss' or 'converse' are too advanced for modern levels of intelligence and are replaced with 'talk' but if I 'talk with you', we are both talking at once. Similarly, we no longer 'meet someone' but have to 'meet with someone'.
In literature (or, if you prefer, writing) the situation is worse, how many people have a clear understanding of the difference between American and British spelling? Confusion over correct spelling and grammar is far worse than most people realise and mis-spellings no longer matter: 'you're' and 'your' are mixed up, 'empathise' (UK spelling) instead of 'emphasize' (this one is in American spelling), 'desert' instead of 'dessert' (just read that one minutes ago, in an article by a professional writer) and so on. Typos they may be but in the 'olden days' published material was superbly proofed, today even books tolerate large margins of error.
Quite apart from all that, the fastest growing change in language skills today is illiteracy.

mj said...

According to Bill Bryson's book The Mother Tongue, English has always been shifting and inconsistent. Plus, English doesn't have some central authority such as Spanish and German have decreeing what the current rules are.