Definition: intelligence, common sense

Pronunciation: NOOWS


This is a 17th century slang word originating from the Greek nous and moreover- the specifically Attic noos, meaning mind or intellect. Nous is first seen in 1670’s English philosophy readings.

Why this word?

Not entirely sure why denoted as slang, nous is mainly prevalent in the UK and les so in other speaking counties. With that being said, I can quote the March 2nd Daily Mail edition reading “A lengthy period of profound inaction by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a seeming lack of political nous in Obama’s White House, is resulting in robotic government”.

So, if we see this word in the newspaper and press, what makes it slang you ask? Good question! Actually, it is the word’s history that made it into 17th century slang.

When first adopted by English philosophers, nous was a huge word to describe huge minds. Where’s the joke? They used to the Greek alphabet to write it. No a great-Greek-reading-mind won’t be able to read it. By the 19th century however, it became a common word in all British households.

The north Americas? Less so. So let’s start now!

How to use the word nous in a sentence?

Well, as we saw, you can use this word to describe a great mind, and a not so great mind. The only thing that would really make a difference here, would be your tone…

“If he had any nous at all- he’d change his mind about animal rights”

“Modern nous is in no way comparable to past times. The deterioration of human thought is evident wherever we go” .


About Author

Victoria Sheinkin is a writer, content editor, translator and chief editor for Speaking three and a half languages, she holds two BAs from the Tel Aviv university- Communication and jounalism, English literature and linguistics.

  • Wheezie Anna

    No, it’s more like “Show a bit of nous, for chrissakes!!” It’s used here like as a sort of of way of saying common sense and quick thinking. Like “that took a fair bit of nous”. I wouldn’t say “modern nous is in no way comparable to past times”. It just doesn’t fit right. “Modern quick thinking, common sense, and problem solving, and being able to see things clearly and act practically on it…. isn’t comparable to past times….” is what you’re saying. Yeah, I don’t know. It doesn’t work. I think you’re using it like “intellectual scope and grandeur,” or “might of the mind” or “depth of thought”. As in when you wrote “If he had any nous at all, he’d change his mind about animal rights…” Again… I don’t know, that’s education, wisdom, and considered opinion, not nous. Nous is that thing where a person shows quick thinking, making a judgement call fast and accurately, facing up to the problem, having some mental fortitude, tackling a problem in a way that is quick, and clever. Like “I hate that fox, but seriously, the way it got around all our fences, the dogs, and the traps, and still took our chickens…well, you gotta hand it to the guy. It took a lot of nous.” Like saying a person has got ‘guts’, but of the mind. It’s cleverness. It’s cleverly outwitting something, or thinking your way around a situation. It sounds odd in both the sentence examples you’ve given. I’m English / Australian btw.

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