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Krankenschwester
Posted: 12 April 2007 04:06 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I know this is typically the place for English word origins, but I was wondering if anyone had any background information on the German word Krankenschwester.

Today in German we were going over some job titles, and their male & female forms. Examples: Der Artz, a male doctor; and Die Ärtzin, a female doctor. Naturally, we came to word for a female nurse, Die Krankenschwester, and for the male: not Krankenbruder, as you might expect, but Der Krankenpfleger.

However, Der Krankenpfleger has its own feminine counterpart, Die Krankenpflegerin. So the question was raised, so why don’t we just use Die Krankenpflegerin when referring to a female nurse? The answer came, speculatively, that Krankenschwester might probably be the older of the two terms, as nursing has a history of being dominated by women, compassionate care being seen as a naturally feminine/matronly concern; and that the -schwester or, ‘sister,’ probably originated from when most nursing was taken care of in nun operated facilities, etc; and that -pfleger/in, a ‘care-er’ was added later when political correctness became a concern.

But after doing some searching, I’m a little skeptical that this might be the case. It appears as though (and this is just my own amateur guess) that Krankenpfleger/in is the older of the two terms. Krankenpfleger and -pflegerin both appear in the Grimm Brother’s Dictionary, while Krankenschwester does not. I would assume that that would indicate that Krankenschwester was not in common usage at the time the brothers compiled their book.

So any information regarding how this term came into usage, or how old it is, or any other background information would be greatly appreciated.

Vielen Dank!
-Jory

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Posted: 12 April 2007 04:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Perhaps because nurses used to be mainly nuns.  Just a guess, mind.

Edit: Added explicit notice of conjecture.

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Posted: 12 April 2007 06:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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[That’s “Arzt” etc., right?]

I think it’s probably right that “Krankenschwester” was originally a [type of] “Schwester”, i.e., “nun”, or likened to one. I.e., the Krankenpfleger who was a Schwester was a Krankenschwester.

I do find instances of “Krankenschwester” in German pre-1900 at Google Books [note that you can’t believe Google’s dates, you must get the date from inside the book!]. I also find instances of “Krankenbruder”, e.g., one case from 1907 where it denotes a particular office at a monastery (so it was “Bruder” = “brother” = “monk”, I guess). “Krankenbruder” is not used in modern German for “nurse” AFAIK.

As for why these are not in Grimm, I don’t know for sure, but note that German is not always the same as English in how a ‘compound word’ is formed from its components. E.g., “Krankenhaus” = “hospital”, “Arzt” = “physician”, so “Krankenhausarzt” = “hospital physician” (at least more-or-less). Even though the German word looks like a single word it’s really just like the two-word English expression. Would one expect “hospital physician” to appear as a headword in an English dictionary, even a big one?

Just casual thoughts. I don’t really know much about German lexicography. There is Kluge for etymology, and there are several big German dictionaries which might give dates etc.

[ Edited: 12 April 2007 06:11 PM by D Wilson ]
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Posted: 12 April 2007 06:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I think Faldage is right though I haven’t found corroboration as yet.  I also remember that “sister” or ”nursing sister” is/was used in the UK and Canada (Australia?) for nurses as well (especially in Florence Nightingale’s time, perhaps).  The England version of Wiktionary suggests that “sister” is “a senior or supervisory nurse, often in a hospital.”

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Posted: 12 April 2007 06:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Check Grimm’s under Schwester II (meaning and use) 4, c

This meaning of Schwester is those who have dedicated themselves to the merciful care of the ill.  My guess is that there is no Krankenschwester in Grimm because at that time (mid 19th century), only nuns did this sort of work, thus a bit redundant.

edit: (will there be no end to edits?) The note there in Grimm says that those who care for the sick are called “sisters of mercy” which invites (student) jokes which play on the sense of ”meretrix."

[ Edited: 12 April 2007 08:16 PM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 12 April 2007 07:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Ah, found it in Duden’s Herkunftswoerterbuch (vol 7 of Das Dudens).  Under Schwester: “Da die Krankenpflege urspruenglich zu den Aufgaben geistlicher Orden Gehoerte, ist Krankenschwester im 20. Jh. Schliesslich zur Berufsbezeichnung geworden.” Since the care of the sick was originally the work of religious orders, Krankenschwester has in the 20th century become the title of the occupation.

edit: fixed link to Dudens

by the way, Jory, if you like German etymology, you MUST get this book.  Next time you’re in Germany.  I paid about $25 USD 2 years ago.  And welcome!

[ Edited: 12 April 2007 07:16 PM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 12 April 2007 09:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I’d like to know just where Jory Dayne (hello, Jory Dayne, and welcome to this board) gets the information that nursing has a history of being dominated by women. it may very well be true that nursing was originally carried out by religious orders; however, i’m not at all sure that before the 19th century these were female.  Early religious nursing orders like the Knights Hospitallers (founded during the Crusades) and the Hospitallers of St. John of God (16th century) were strictly male. The order of Sisters of Mercy was founded only in 1831. I think it might be difficult to find the term “Sister” associated directly with the nursing of the sick and/or wounded, any time much before the 19th century. And all that “ministering angel “ stuff is only partly true, and unpardonably sexist. Let me remind you that the female sex also includes ladies such as Mme. Marie Lafarge (not that i blame her, mind. I’d just rather not share her husband’s soup)

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Posted: 12 April 2007 10:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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lionello - 12 April 2007 09:17 PM

I’d like to know just where Jory Dayne (hello, Jory Dayne, and welcome to this board) gets the information that nursing has a history of being dominated by women.

Lionello, I think its pretty clear that I am just repeating here what was said in class. And I think by preceding the entire thing with ‘speculatively,’ it should also be clear that these were not, nor did I consider them to be informed answers. I am well aware that nursing has not always been, nor seen as, a predominantly female occupation—and this is the point, moreover! This is why I was doubtful about the antiquity of Krankenschwester over Krankenpfleger/in in the first place! Good grief.

Back to the matter at hand—thanks for all the helpful information, Oecolampadius—I hadn’t even thought to check under Schwester! I read D Wilson’s comment and thought, ‘why didn’t I think to look there?’ I will definitely have to add Herkunftswoerterbuch to my shopping list.

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Posted: 13 April 2007 05:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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The Yiddish ‘krankshvester’ retains the same meaning (nurse, or literally ill + sister), and the word shvester is used not only in a familial sense, but also in a communal sense (i.e. a valued member of the shtetl community).  Sort of in the same way as a sister or brother as a union member.  Yes, I realize that this is derived entirely from German, but does give an idea of shvester as a term of endearment.

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~ Shmegege

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Posted: 13 April 2007 05:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I think it might be difficult to find the term “Sister” associated directly with the nursing of the sick and/or wounded, any time much before the 19th century. And all that “ministering angel “ stuff is only partly true, and unpardonably sexist.

Certainly back in Brother Cadfael’s day all the care of the sick (such as it was) was done in monasteries and the work of the day-to-day caring for those who were either recovering from or dying of their wounds or diseases was accomplished by brothers.  But why not go back to more primitive societies where witch doctors and medicine men were all male?

I thought we were talking about the profession of “nursing” which developed in the 19th century, the credit for which is usually given to Florence Nightingale and other women such as Clara Maass who were inspired by the work of Lutheran Deaconesses in Germany in the mid-19th century.

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Posted: 13 April 2007 06:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Da die Krankenpflege urspruenglich zu den Aufgaben geistlicher Orden Gehoerte, ist Krankenschwester im 20. Jh. Schliesslich zur Berufsbezeichnung geworden.

Why All the Capitals??

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Posted: 13 April 2007 07:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I was typing from the book and it was late.

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Posted: 13 April 2007 07:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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From the online OED:

nurse n<sup>1</sup>.
1. a. Originally: a wet-nurse (now arch.). In later use: a woman employed or trained to take charge of a young child or children. Also in extended use. [First cite ante 1325]
...
3. A person (historically usually a woman) who cares for the sick or infirm; (now chiefly) spec. a person professionally qualified for this activity. Also: an assistant to a medical professional. [First citation from Shakespeare, ante 1616]

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Posted: 13 April 2007 08:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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languagehat - 13 April 2007 06:56 AM

Why All the Capitals??

German nouns are capitalized in written form.

I haven’t yet mastered the whole quotation thing yet (Luddite)

(*intentional misuse of ‘Luddite’ to encourage response).

[ Edited: 13 April 2007 08:09 AM by shmegege ]
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Posted: 13 April 2007 08:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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German nouns are capitalized in written form.

I’m sure that languagehat knows that, and he also knows that gehoerte and schliesslich aren’t nouns.

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Posted: 13 April 2007 09:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Thanks, Doc.

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