Miskatonic University Press



There’s an unfamiliar—to me—word that I came across recently in three places in quick succession: a Georgette Heyer novel, I think Black Sheep; Mick Herron’s Slow Horses; and an episode of BBC Radio Four’s More or Less. Perhaps I’d have known it if I’d studied more philosophy. The word is nous.

I looked it up in my two favourite dictionaries. The Chambers Dictionary (thirteenth edition, 2014) says:

n intellect; talent; common sense (inf.) [Gr nous, contracted from noos]

And The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (first edition, 1998) says:

1 Brit. informal common sense; gumption 2 Philos. the mind or intellect. [Greek]

One pronunciation of it, and the one Tim Harford used on More or Less, rhymes with “mouse.”


(The Wikipedia entry for it is one of those that’s surprisingly long and and far longer than articles that deserve more attention, for example another one I was looking at recently, Tajiks. Probably there are many fictional characters designed by large corporations purely to make money that have longer articles than either.)

UPDATE (the next day): Today I heard the Great Lives episode where Yanis Varoufakis nominated Hypatia. In it expert witness Edith Hall, says, when asked about Hypatia’s personal life, “I think she was probably a very committed Neoplatonist, so she did I think believe in a Oneness, and that was identified by Plotinian Neoplatonists also with nous, which is brain power, and logos, which is reason, so this idea that somehow being spiritual and being highly intellectual go together.” She pronounced it “noos.”