I could have sworn that I have heard/read the word "steward" in a context similar to the following:

"His precise measurements of the motion of mercury, made over the course of eight consecutive years, made him a steward of science."

In the sentence above, it's clear that steward is taken to mean, roughly, "One who upholds core values". However, the word as per the Merriam-Webster dictionary is,

Steward [noun | stew·ard | \ˈstü-ərd, ˈstyü-; ˈst(y)u̇rd]

(1) a person and especially a man whose job is to serve meals and take care of passengers on a train, airplane, or ship

(2) someone who protects or is responsible for money, property, etc.

(3) a person whose job is to manage the land and property of another person

It seems like the definition I am thinking of can be thought of as a mild contortion/stretching of the standard definition. Can "steward" take on such a meaning that I have outlined in my example sentence, or am I gravely mistaken? Regardless of whether or not it is, could you give me words which match my hypothesized definition (i.e. words that mean "One who upholds core values")?

  • Anecdotally, I've definitely heard 'steward' in the context you described. For example, a great customer service representative would be considered "a steward for the client"
    – lux
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 18:52
  • 1
    As others have said, "steward" isn't impossible there, but I wonder if it might have been "stalwart" instead, with the emphasis on consistent work over a long period of time?
    – hobbs
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 19:22
  • 1
    'Defender of the faith' has the same metaphorical extension (some might say not too metaphorical). 'Champion' is also close, but perhaps a little flowery. 'Standard-bearer'. Plain old 'hero'. Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 19:53

3 Answers 3


It's right there in the definition you quote, entry (2).

"Someone who protects or is responsible for ... etc." - what they are responsible for is 'the reputation and honor of science'

See also stewardship

the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving.

  • 1
    I'd agree, but etc can cover a multitude of sins. Here, it means 'and all other things we consider that a steward protects or is responsible for'. But even then we wouldn't normally say 'He is a steward of the sewerage system' about the official in charge of it. There's a connotation of a noble calling. (Not that I'm saying that the person in charge of sewerage shouldn't be highly valued – very highly valued.) Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 16:16
  • Any title attached to sewerage system sounds comical, and steward in the sense of protector has come to connote someone in an unofficial capacity, but a steward of the sewerage system (the assonance doesn't help with the comic aspect) would be a noble title in my neighborhood.
    – Zan700
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 17:02
  • Sewerage system sounds silly. Sewage system seems suitable.
    – barbecue
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 21:52

It's common to see steward used in that context: A steward of the land; a steward of health care; a steward of the profession. It's used in the way that "servant" would be used in the selfsame contexts. If you google "a steward of" or "a servant of" you'll find numerous examples.


Speaking as a scientist, I would not use steward in that sense. Carrying out an experiment or project, even one that requires a long period of time, does not constitute stewardship of the entire scientific enterprise. It does constitute dedication and commitment to the scientific method, but these are expected of all scientists. The experiment in question does not differ in kind from any other scientific experiment or project, and yet few would think of calling every scientist a "steward of science" (although in some sense every scientist is).

You could consider the following:

"He stewarded the Mercury Project, which required precise measurements of the motion of mercury over the course of eight consecutive years.

I don't find any support for this usage in dictionary definitions of steward (the ones I've checked) either, but I believe it's idiomatic; it's not an uncommon usage.

ASIDE: The dictionary definitions of steward (the ones I've checked) all refer to stewards as persons; they omit organizations. But isn't it commonplace to see sentences such as the following?

Organization X is committed to environmental stewardship.

According to Wikipedia, "environmental stewardship refers to responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices". Many organizations are committed to this, or to promoting this.

  • On the topic of what you said, I think the way I used it probably wouldn't be so good if the sentence was aimed at scientists, for you said, scientific stewardship is expected of all scientists. However, if aimed at a non-scientific audience I think it would be fine. My example was paraphrase of a line from Carl Sagan by the way. Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 17:34
  • @ArturodonJuan Thanks for the comment. When I read your question and example, I thought of Carl Sagan as a steward of science. I found your question interesting, and perhaps like you, I was surprised that the definitions of steward (the ones I checked) didn't contain some of the senses of steward that I have not infrequently heard used. Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 17:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.