Healthy vs. Healthful
A few months ago, a reader wrote to commend me for what she called my correct use of the term "healthful." Yet just last week, a different reader suggested that my use of that word where others would simply write "healthy" was trendy and, frankly, a bit much.
I'm always up for a healthy -- or is it healthful? -- debate. But this time I feel I must take sides: the first reader was right.
My understanding has been that the word "healthful" means "contributing to the state of good health," whereas "healthy" means "enjoying the state of good health." Hence: "Eating healthful foods can help make a person healthy."
My trusty Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (10th edition) supports my stance: It defines "healthful" as "beneficial to health of body or mind" and "healthy" as "enjoying health and vigor of body, mind, or spirit."
And so does Post copyeditor Thomas Graham, who has steered me through many a grammatical thicket in my career. Tom assures me that my use of the words is "not trendy; it's accurate," adding that it's "not always followed as rigorously in the Post as it might."
Why is this so important to me? Because in reporting -- perhaps particularly health reporting -- getting things right matters. If I'm not willing to sweat what some might deem the small stuff, how can readers trust that I'm sufficiently sweating the big stuff?
Your turn. Is using the word "healthful" pretentious? Do these things matter much?
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