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A nervous leaf (sense 2.3) – that is, one having nerves or veins – of a poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
The Farnese Hercules, a c. 216 marble statue of Hercules made for the Baths of Caracalla in Rome,[n 2] was described by Joseph Spence as “strong and nervous” (sense 1.2)[n 3]

From Middle English nervous (composed of or incorporating nerves), from Latin nervōsus (nervous; sinewy; energetic, vigorous),[1] from nervus (nerve; muscle; sinew, tendon; (figuratively) energy, power; nerve; force, strength, vigour) (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *snéh₁wr̥ (sinew, tendon)) + -ōsus (suffix meaning ‘full of, prone to’ forming adjectives from nouns).[2] The English word is analysable as nerve +‎ -ous.



nervous (comparative more nervous, superlative most nervous)

  1. Of sinews and tendons.
    1. (obsolete) Full of sinews. [14th–18th c.]
    2. (obsolete) Having strong or prominent sinews; sinewy, muscular. [15th–19th c.]
    3. (obsolete) Of a piece of writing, literary style etc.: forceful, powerful. [17th–19th c.]
      • 1663, Edward Waterhous, Fortescutus Illustratus [], London: Tho. Roycroft for Thomas Dicas [], →OCLC, title page:
        Fortescutus illustratus, or a commentary on that nervous treatise De Laudibus Legum Angliæ [] [book title]
      • 1788, Frances Burney, Journals & Letters, Penguin, published 2001, page 264:
        Nervous, clear, and striking, was almost all that he uttered […].
  2. Of nerves.
    1. Supplied with nerves; innervated. [from 14th c.]
    2. Affecting or involving the nerves or nervous system. [from 15th c.]
      • 1733, George Cheyne, “Of the General Division of Nervous Distempers”, in The English Malady []  [], London: G[eorge] Strahan []; Bath, Somerset: J[ames] Leake, →OCLC, part I, pages 14–15:
        All Nervous Diſtempers whatſoever, from Yawning and Stretching, up to a mortal Fit of an Apoplexy, ſeems to me to be but one continued Diſorder, or the ſeveral Steps or Degrees of it, ariſing from a Relaxation or Weakneſs, and the want of a ſufficient Force and Elaſticity in the Solids in general, and the Nerves in particular, in Proportion to the Reſiſtance of the Fluids, in order to carry on the Circulation, remove Obſtructions, carry off the Recrements, and make the Secretions.
      • 1774 September, “48. Medical Memoirs of the General Dispensary in London: For Part of the Years 1773 and 1774. By John Coakley Lettsom, M.D. F.R.S. and A.S.S. and Physician to the General Dispensary. 8vo. Dilly.”, in Sylvanus Urban [pseudonym; Edward Cave], editor, The Gentleman's Magazine, volume XLIV, London:  [] D[avid] Henry, and sold by F[rancis] Newbery [], →OCLC, page 432, column 2:
        Elizabeth Moſs, a girl of about 15 years of age, was attacked, in December, 1773, with a ſlow nervous fever, during the courſe of which ſhe had very little ſleep; []
      • 2011, Nancy L. Kuntz, Jonathan Strober, “Differential Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and Acquired Central Nervous System Demyelinating Disorders in Children and Adolescents”, in Dorothée Chabas, Emmanuelle L. Waubant, editors, Demyelinating Disorders of the Central Nervous System in Childhood, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, →ISBN, page 58:
        However, concern regarding potential morbidity from biopsy of a central nervous system lesion makes it rare to have a pathologic specimen available for clinical diagnosis.
    3. (botany, obsolete) Nervose. [17th–18th c.]
    4. Easily agitated or alarmed; edgy, on edge. [from 18th c.]
      Synonyms: excitable, high-strung, hypersensitive; see also Thesaurus:nervous
      Being in a crowd of strangers makes me nervous.
      • 1928 November, Norman B. Cole, “Present Day Opinion Regarding the Relationship between Athletics and the Heart”, in James Huff McCurdy, editor, American Physical Education Review, volume XXXIII, number 9 (number 241 overall), Springfield, Mass.: American Physical Education Association, page 575, column 2:
        I can only assure you here that there is such a thing as a nervous child; whose nervous system is unstable; who is easily upset; whose pulse is apt to "run away" at any excitement; who blushes and pales and sweats easily; who tires easily; and who may be subject to headache and eye strain.
    5. Apprehensive, anxious, hesitant, worried. [from 18th c.]
      Synonyms: see Thesaurus:nervous
      Antonyms: calm, relaxed
      • 1843 December 19, Charles Dickens, “Stave Five. The End of It.”, in A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, London: Chapman & Hall, [], →OCLC, page 161:
        They were looking at the table (which was spread out in great array); for these young housekeepers are always nervous on such points, and like to see that everything is right.
      • 1870, Richard Whitbourne, “A Relation of the New-found-land, with a More Ample Discouery of that Countrey, []”, in T. Whitburn, editor, Westward Hoe for Avalon in the New-found-land: As described by Captain Richard Whitbourne, of Exmouth, Devon, 1622, London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marston, []; Field and Tuer, [], →OCLC, page 25:
        Various harbours fit to receive settlers are now enumerated by the author; and as for the cold, of which some, through report, entertained a nervous dread, he invites his readers to reflect on "the great colde that is at times in Muſcouia, Sweidon, Norway, Spruceland, Poland, Denmarke, and other Eaſterne and Northerne parts of the world, where the people liue well and grow rich;" []
      • 1915, Cecilia Farwell, “The Nervous Child”, in The Child Welfare Manual [], volume 1, New York, N.Y.: The University Society, →OCLC, page 331, column 1:
        "My baby is a perfect bundle of nerves," said one mother to another. "She is so sensitive, she starts at the slightest sound. She sleeps only a few minutes at a time, and has to be walked or rocked to get her off again. She won't go to strangers, and I am a nervous wreck taking care of her."

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  1. ^ From R. Lawton Roberts (1888) “Lecture I”, in Illustrated Lectures on Ambulance Work, 3rd edition, London: H. K. Lewis, [], →OCLC, figure 3, page 20.
  2. ^ From the collection of the National Archaeological Museum, Naples in Italy.
  3. ^ See quotes under sense 1.2.


  1. ^ nervǒus, adj.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 4 March 2019.
  2. ^ nervous, adj.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, September 2003; nervous”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  3. ^ Bingham, Caleb (1808) “Improprieties in Pronunciation, common among the people of New-England”, in The Child's Companion; Being a Conciſe Spelling-book [] [1], 12th edition, Boston: Manning & Loring, →OCLC, page 76.

Further reading[edit]

Middle English[edit]


Borrowed from Latin nervōsus; equivalent to nerve +‎ -ous.


  • IPA(key): /nɛrˈvuːs/, /ˈnɛrvus/


nervous (Late Middle English)

  1. Composed of or incorporating nerves or tendons.
  2. (uncommon) Pertaining to nerves or tendons.


  • English: nervous