Today’s Word of the Week is a special request from Lynne F. (and as a reminder, if ever you have a word you’d like me to look into, please feel free to let me know and I’ll add it to my list!).

Nurse is rather interesting, in that the noun and verb forms evolved a bit differently. The oldest form of this word is nurrice, which dates from the 1100s, meaning a “wet-nurse or foster mother to a young child.” This word was borrowed directly from the French, which came in turn from the Latin nutricia (wet nurse) which in turn is a variation of the Latin word for “suckle.” Look familiar? This is the same root from which we get nourish and nutrician.

The extended meaning of “one who cares for a sick person” evolved rather naturally from the idea of “one who cares for a child,” but it took quite a long while to do so! That noun didn’t enter English until 1580. And the verb form, “to care for the sick” is from 1736! (I had no idea that was so late!!)

As for the verb meaning “to suckle an infant,” that’s surprisingly late to the game as well, though not as much as the one mentioned above. This dates from the 1530s and is a Middle English alteration of a similar word, nurshen, which is taken from the same root but had previously been pronounced differently.

So there we have it. Our modern member of the medical community derives its name from women caring for children. =)

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