Definition: Nun

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Etymology 1

From Middle English nonne, nunne, from Old English nunne (nun), from Late Latin nonna (nun, tutor), originally (along with masculine form nonnus (man)) a term of address for elderly persons, perhaps from children's speech, reminiscent of nana, like papa etc.


nun (plural nuns)

  1. A member of a Christian religious community of women who live by certain vows and usually wear a habit, (Roman Catholicism, specifically) those living together in a cloister.
  2. A member of a similar female community in other confessions, such as a Buddhist nun.
  3. A kind of pigeon with the feathers on its head like the hood of a nun.

Usage notes

In Roman Catholicism, a distinction is often drawn (especially by members of female religious orders) between nuns and sisters, the former being cloistered and devoted primarily to prayer, the latter being more active, doing work such as operating hospitals, caring for the poor, or teaching.

Derived terms

  • nunhood
  • nunlike
  • nunnery

Etymology 2

Borrowed from the letter’s name in the respective language.


nun (plural nuns)

  1. The fourteenth letter of many Semitic alphabets/abjads (Phoenician, Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic and others).


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