I was wondering about that: the New Oxford American Dictionary says to muse comes from the French muser, which comes from the Latin musum. The Muse comes form the Latin musa, which comes from the Greek mousa. Those sound close, but my Latin is too weak (and my Greek inexistent) to tell if they were related back in the antique days.

  • On a related note, I've established that museum comes from the same root as Muse: “via Latin from Greek mouseion (seat of the Muses), based on mousa (Muse).”
    – F'x
    Mar 11, 2011 at 14:45
  • today's "who knew?" question, good one. And here's everyone's favorite noun-Muse: youtube.com/watch?v=oWeJ9p42ufg (now thirty-five years ago!) Obviously, Jeff Lynne's sound is still 50 years ahead of anything today, and what about those glow graphics and effects as the girls turn real! Historic video!
    – Fattie
    Aug 10, 2015 at 14:27

3 Answers 3


Etymonline says this about that:

muse "to be absorbed in thought," mid-14c., from O.Fr. muser (12c.) "to ponder, loiter, waste time," lit. "to stand with one's nose in the air" (or, possibly, "to sniff about" like a dog who has lost the scent), from muse "muzzle," from Gallo-Romance *musa "snout," of unknown origin. Probably influenced in sense by muse (n.). Related: Mused; musing.

  • Wow! Without this I'd certainly have succumbed to folk etymology. It gets hard when analogy and folk etymology actually change the words themselves. +1 Mar 11, 2011 at 14:56
  • I am also surprised.
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 11, 2011 at 15:50
  • This issue seems fascinating, but I still totally don't understand which is which!
    – Fattie
    Aug 10, 2015 at 14:21

[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin Mūsa, from Greek Mousa; see men-1 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]

Word History: Ever since Chaucer first mentions the Muses in a work from around 1390, English poets have invoked these goddesses like so many other versifiers since the days of Homer, who begins both The Iliad and The Odyssey with an invocation of his Muse. The word Muse comes from Latin Mūsa, which in turn is from Greek Mousa. In Greek dialects, this word is found in the variant forms mōsa and moisa, and together these indicate that the Greek word comes from an original *montwa. As to the further origins of this form, a clue is provided by the name of Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory and mother of the Muses. Her name is simply the Greek noun mnēmosunē, "memory"—the faculty of memory was indeed the mother of invention for the ancient Greek professional poets and bards whose job it was to compose new poems in traditional styles on festive occasions, to recite the verses of Homer, and to improvise material whenever they had a memory lapse. Greek mnēmosunē is derived from the root *mnā-, an extended form of the Greek and Indo-European root *men-, "to think." This is the root from which English also gets the words amnesia (from Greek), mental (from Latin), and mind (from Germanic). The reconstructed form *montwa, the ancestor of Greek Mousa, also comes from this root and probably originally referred to "mental power" that enables poets to craft verses—the Muses were the Greek poets' divinized conceptions of the faculties that help them to create and recite poetry.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


It seems to be thought unlikely.

The etymology of the verb muse seems to be too obscure to trace it back clearly to a Latin etymology. As you mentioned, the English verb certainly seems to come from the French verb muser. The ending -er is just a termination for the infinitive of verbs in the 1st group (the largest conjugational class for French verbs).

The OED and the French TLFi (© 2012 - CNRTL) say that French muser is probably derived from an unattested Old French noun *mus that meant something like "face"; the TLFi indicates that *mus would also have been the base of the attested French word museau. The TLFi entry for museau (which originally had the form musel, with a diminutive suffix -el) indicates that it is akin to Italian muso, and says that both come from a Latin word musus, -us of obscure origin.

French musel is the source of English muzzle; the OED entry for that word also mentions Old French *mus and says that "Postclassical Latin musus or musum is of uncertain origin".

The English and French noun muse, from Latin Musa, from Greek Μοῦσα, is not described by either of these sources as being related to the verb muse(r), from Old French *mus, from Latin musus/musum.

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