Nurse Origins

Where do we get the word nurse from?

The term is related to the modern word nourish, to feed, is derived from the 5th-century Latin nutrice –a wet-nurse (a woman hired to breastfeed an infant when a mother could not–or chose not to–do so.) It has origins in the word nuzzle, or nosell, for noseling (or nose-long); to push with the nose. To nuzzle was orignally to nursle (Old English).

In the early 13th century, nurice appeared, and it took on the meaning of any female caretaker of children. And by the 14th century, nurse took the meaning or a person place or thing that nurtures.

The 17th century brought us Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, where nurse appears as such: “I will attend my husband, be his nurse.”

In the early 19th century, nurse also picked up the sense of a worker in a community of bees, ants, etc.; one who cares for the larvae.

Over time, semantically, nurse has grown from the narrow use of denoting a woman hired to provide surrogate breast milk to the much broader use of those focused on the the well-being of others.

Before the foundation of modern nursing, members of religious orders such as nuns and monks often provided nursing-like care. These religious roots of modern nursing are why the honorific title of “sister” was often used to refer to a nurse. And because of that influence, the Hebrew use of achot (sister) also may mean “nurse” —  (אח (ach) for male, and אחות (achot) for female. Ach and achot mean brother and sister).

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