nos·​trum | \ ˈnä-strəm How to pronounce nostrum (audio) \

Definition of nostrum

1 : a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness … is put to work at county fairs, promoting a quack nostrum for pain relief.— Patrick McGrath
2 : a usually questionable remedy or scheme : panacea an audience eager to believe he had found the nostrum for all of society's ills— Warren Sloat

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Did You Know?

In those thrilling days of yesteryear, declared a 1990 Consumer Reports article, "patent-medicine pitchmen and traveling salesmen blanketed the country, hustling notions and nostrums to gullible settlers." The word nostrum has often been so linked to quack medicine and false hopes for miracle cures, but there's nothing deceitful about its etymology. It has been a part of English since at least 1602, and comes from the Latin noster, meaning "our" or "ours." Some people think that specially prepared medicinal concoctions came to be called nostrums because their purveyors marketed them as our own remedy. In other words, the use of nostrum emphasized that such a potion was unique or exclusive to the pitchman peddling it.

Examples of nostrum in a Sentence

politicians repeating all the usual nostrums about the economy using garlic as a nostrum to prevent disease

Recent Examples on the Web

Cohen and DeLong titled their book Concrete Economics to distinguish their ideas from the purely abstract, empirically untethered nostrums of the unfettered free market. Win Mccormack, The New Republic, "The Green New Deal: A Capitalist Plot (Part 1)," 20 June 2019 The implications for Social Security reform nostrums are major. Michael Hiltzik,, "More evidence that raising the Social Security retirement age is no problem for the rich, but tough on the poor," 25 Apr. 2018 Storr’s main focus, though, is on some nostrums that emerged in the 1960s, especially from the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Calif. Anthony Gottlieb, New York Times, "How We Got to Be So Self-Absorbed: The Long Story," 21 June 2018 This good-governance nostrum, like many, is case-specific. Holman W. Jenkins, WSJ, "The Last Temptation of Elon Musk," 22 May 2018 Another consequence is that the focus on arming teachers and other nostrums directed at school campus safety shifts attention from gun-safety policies much more likely to work. Michael Hiltzik,, "Don't be misled by the publicity on shootings: For kids, schools actually are the safest refuges from gun violence," 16 Mar. 2018 The nostrums of 12-step recovery, even with Emma resisting them bitterly, are not inherently dramatic. Jesse Green, New York Times, "Review: The Horror Show of Rehab in ‘People, Places & Things’," 25 Oct. 2017 Never in modern times has an occupant of the Oval Office seemed to reject so thoroughly the nostrum that a president’s duty is to bring the country together. NBC News, "First Read’s Morning Clips: Divider-in-Chief Turns His Focus to Sports," 25 Sep. 2017 Wayne was married three times and aged into a parody of himself, playing slight variations on the same role while in his political life spouting Bircher-ish nostrums about patriotism as compensation for his guilt over not fighting in the war. Scott Stossel, WSJ, "Review: ‘Wayne and Ford,’ Co-creating Masculinity," 15 Dec. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'nostrum.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of nostrum

1602, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for nostrum

Latin, neuter of noster our, ours, from nos we — more at us

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Statistics for nostrum

Last Updated

13 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for nostrum

The first known use of nostrum was in 1602

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More Definitions for nostrum



English Language Learners Definition of nostrum

formal : a suggested solution for a problem that will probably not succeed
old-fashioned : something that is used for treating illness, pain, etc., but that is not an accepted and effective medicine


nos·​trum | \ ˈnäs-trəm How to pronounce nostrum (audio) \

Medical Definition of nostrum

: a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness

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More from Merriam-Webster on nostrum

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for nostrum

Spanish Central: Translation of nostrum

Nglish: Translation of nostrum for Spanish Speakers

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