Printable Version
Pronunciation: nêrs Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, Verb

Meaning: 1. (Noun) A person trained to care for the sick, especially under supervision of doctors in hospitals. 2. (Noun) A person charged with the care of children, short for nursemaid. 3. (Verb) To attend carefully, as to nurse a sore ankle. 4. (Verb) To breastfeed (a baby) or be breastfed, as the baby peacefully nursed in her arms. 5. (Verb) To drag something out maximally, for as long as possible, as to nurse a drink or nurse a grudge for years.

Notes: The verb nurse has gone through several metaphorical changes that reveal our attitudes toward nursing. The first new meaning to come out of this is a sense of carefulness, as to nurse a sore foot back to health. Second, trust is implied in the verb nurse, for would we entrust the care of our children to someone we distrust? Finally, it has taken on the sense of endurance, as to nurse a drink or a grudge. These characteristics reveal what we expect from well-defined nurses.

In Play: Since the noun is common enough, let's focus on the meanings of the verb nurse: "Porphyria carefully nursed her husband back to good health for the satisfaction of divorcing him before he died." Now for a sentence exemplifying protracted action: "Jason Sanborn never really liked alcoholic drinks, but he always orders one, carefully nursing it throughout the evening."

Word History: English reduced today' Good Word from Middle English norice "nurse, wet nurse", from Old French norrice, a simplification of Late Latin nutricia, the feminine of Latin nutricius "that suckles", used as noun. Nutricius is the adjective accompanying nutrix (nutric-s) "wet nurse", the personal noun from the verb nutrire "to suckle, nourish". English borrowed several other words based on this same root: nutritious, nurture, nourish and nutrient among them. (We now thank Rob Towart for not nursing the recommendation of today's Good Word any longer than he did.)

Dr. Goodword,

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