May 30, 2012 | in Nanny
Etymology is the study of a word’s origins and historical use, and the way that the definition of a word can evolve over time. Here are a few of the most interesting facts pertaining to the way that we use and define the word “nanny.”
- Unclear Origins – Etymologists disagree about the origin of the word “nanny” as we use it today. Some speculate that it’s derived from the Greek root nanna, which means aunt, while others maintain that the root language is “nursery speech.” (That’s a scientist’s way of saying “baby talk.”)
- It Used to Be an Impolite Term – “Nanny” has many meanings, and can refer to the name for a female goat, the Cajun word for “godmother”, and also as an antiquated nickname for the first name Anne. In addition to these esteemed uses, a “nanny-house” was a widely used eighteenth century slang term for a “brothel.”
- Nannies in India – During the British Raj, which refers to the period of British rule in India, most nannies that cared for English children were native to India and called ayah. The word is still commonly used on the Indian Subcontinent today, but has come to have a more general definition of “female servant” or “maid.”
- Nineteenth Century Nannies – The nineteenth-century equivalent of what we refer to as a nanny was then known as a “nurse.” She was in complete charge of the nursery suite, and usually had at least one assistant, called a “nursemaid,” under her supervision.
- Before They Were Nannies – In the “nurse” era of the nineteenth century, it was very common for a nanny to be such a prized member of the household that she stayed on the payroll for most of her life, caring for each generation of a noble family’s children.
- Politically Charged Usage – In more modern times, the word “nanny” has been appropriated by the politically-minded and used to describe policies and laws that they deem overprotective and restrictive. In this sense, the term “nanny state” is always used in a derogatory fashion.
- Mary Poppins – This beloved fictional character is such a glowing representation of the ideal nanny that her name has become synonymous with one. It’s not uncommon to hear parents gush about their superb childcare provider by calling her “a Mary Poppins.”
- Grandmothers and Nannies – In certain regions and cultures, most notably the Eastern part of the United States, Ireland and parts of Australia, “nanny” is a commonly accepted name for one’s grandmother.
- Today’s Nannies – The word “nanny” is still something of an ambiguous term, though we have a clear cultural grasp of the concept. Nannies can be college educated or not, old or young, male or female, and live with their charges or keep their own homes.
- Mannies – The latter part of the twentieth century saw the emergence of a new variation on this term with the surge in popularity of male nannies. Now called “mannies,” this term is widely used, but is not yet recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary.
No matter what name you use for them, great nannies have the ability to become an indispensable part of the families they work for, and loved by all family members.
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