Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Nurture


The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is nurture. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Nurture is most often used to mean “to help someone or something grow, develop, or succeed.” It can also mean “to take care of someone or something that is growing or developing by providing food, protection, a place to live, etc.,” or “to hold something, such as an idea or strong feeling, in your mind for a long time.”

Nurture can also be used somewhat formally as a noun referring to the care and attention given to someone or something that is growing or developing.

// Art teachers nurture their students’ creativity.

// She nurtured a secret ambition to be a singer.

NURTURE in Context

“As a Michelin-trained chef, one of my roles in the show [Young MasterChef] is to nurture the fresh-faced contestants—the next-generation of top chefs—and help them to hone their dishes and become the best cooks they can be. Hopefully I’m teaching them a few new kitchen skills along the way—and I’m learning lots from the experience, too.” — Poppy O’Toole, BBC, 6 Jan. 2023

Did You Know?

Which affects a person’s development more, nurture or nature? We can’t answer that question—it’s far outside the lexicographer’s purview—but we can tell you that when nurture was first adopted into the English language in the 14th century it referred, as it does in that question, to training or upbringing, i.e. to the care and attention given to someone or something that is growing or developing. It wasn’t until a century later that the verb nurture settled into the language, first with meanings having to do with feeding and caring for young—meanings nourish had been, er, nurturing for a hundred years. The words come by their overlapping meanings etymologically: both come from the Latin verb nutrire, meaning “to suckle” or “to nourish” (as do the words nutrientnutritiousnutriment, and nutrition). The figurative use of nurture, meaning “to further the development of,” didn’t arise until the mid-18th century. Mary Wollstonecraft applied it in her 1792 book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, writing, “Public spirit must be nurtured by private virtue.”

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