college slang for "intelligence, wit, cleverness, common sense," 1706, from Greek nous, Attic form of noos "mind, intelligence, perception, intellect," which was taken in English in philosophy 1670s as "the perceptive and intelligent faculty." The Greek word is of uncertain origin. Beekes writes, "No doubt an old inherited verbal noun ..., though there is no certain etymology."
It is always difficult to find an English word to represent nous. The standard dictionary translation is "mind," but this does not have the correct connotations, particularly when the word is used in a religious philosophy. ... Mathematics, the world of ideas, and all thought about what is not sensible, have, for Pythagoras, Plato, and Plotinus, something divine; they constitute the activity of nous, or at least the nearest approach to its activity that we can conceive. [Bertrand Russell, "A History of Western Philosophy"]
updated on May 21, 2022