Thursday, July 2, 2009

Immune To or From?

I've repeatedly heard a local newscaster state that we are "not immune from the recession" or some other negative influence or foible. It's long been a curiosity to me, as I'd heard the word used extensively in a medical context but less so, until this seemingly-global "correction" of the economy, when discussion vulnerability to non-pathogenic questions. I've also heard plenty of people caution that no one stands "immune to the recession".

Understandably, I've been drawn to investigate the question. In Barbara R. DuBois's more-general article on prepositions for Verbatim, a fascinating publication on the vagaries of the English language, I found this tidbit that seems to answer the question quite thoroughly:

Some words give difficulty because they use different prepositions for different meanings. Immune, for example, is a troublemaker since it has become popular in figurative use. It takes to when we discuss disease, and so we can talk about "immunity to jet lag." But when we discuss taxes or fines, we use from: "Kings and queens are immune from taxation"...
Merriam-Webster confirms this use and explanation. Apparently, I've simply never felt the need to look up immune in the dictionary. It all goes to show you that you should never be too complacent in your understanding of any language. You can often find such shades of use for words you thought you knew. None of us is immune from learning.