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For example, people often refer to an elevator as claustrophobic, but I'm curious whether it is more accurate to say that an elevator causes its occupants to feel claustrophobic.

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Although in this case "claustrophobic" is OK in both senses, this question reminds me of one of my pet peeves: "I feel nauseous." I should probably get over it, but every time I hear someone say that I want to say "You're right! Now I know why I'm feeling nauseated - you make me sick!" – MT_Head May 17 '11 at 0:16
up vote 5 down vote accepted

claustrophobic can mean both:

  1. pertaining to or suffering from claustrophobia.
  2. tending to induce claustrophobia: a small, airless, claustrophobic room.
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Let's start here.

claustrophobia: Extreme or irrational fear of confined places.

So, with that definition in mind. It's not grammatically correct to say that an elevator is claustrophobic.

But, I had heard it used that way, so I looked it up.

  1. Causing anxiety; disquieting.

So, in light of that definition, yes, you can use it that way.

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