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curator, n.

Brit. Hear pronunciation/kjᵿˈreɪtə/
Hear pronunciation/kjʊəˈreɪtə/
Hear pronunciation/kjɔːˈreɪtə/
U.S. Hear pronunciation/ˈkjʊˌreɪdər/
Hear pronunciation/kjʊˈreɪdər/
Forms:  Middle English couratour, Middle English curateour, Middle English curatoure, Middle English curature, Middle English–1600s curatour, 1500s– curator; Scottish pre-1700 cuiratour, pre-1700 curatour, pre-1700 curature, pre-1700 curetour, 1700s– curator. (Show Less)
Frequency (in current use):  Show frequency band information
Origin: Of multiple origins. Partly a borrowing from French. Partly a borrowing from Latin. Etymons: French curatour; Latin cūrātor.
Etymology: < (i) Anglo-Norman curatour guardian, priest having cure of souls (14th cent.), Middle French, French curateur   guardian (13th cent. in Old French), protector, administrator (14th cent.), member of a university council in Belgium (1612 or earlier),
and its etymon (ii) classical Latin cūrātor keeper, supervisor, overseer, guardian, in post-classical Latin also curer, healer (Vetus Latina in figurative use, 6th cent. in literal sense; from 12th cent. in British sources), parish priest (from 13th cent. in British sources; also in continental sources) < cūrāt-  , past participial stem of cūrāre   (see cure v.1) + -or  -or suffix.
N.E.D. (1893) gives the pronunciation as (kiurēi·təɹ, kiūə·rătəɹ) /kjʊˈreɪtə(r)/, /ˈkjʊərətə(r)/.
N.E.D. also notes that stress on the first syllable was specific to senses 1   and 2, but this pattern is now used more generally in American English. The alternative pattern with stress on the second syllable (now predominant in British English) apparently reflects that of the Latin word.

1. A parish priest or another ecclesiastic who has the spiritual charge of a body of laymen; = curate n. 1a. Obsolete.

c1390  (a1376)    W. Langland Piers Plowman (Vernon) (1867) A. i. l. 169   Curatours þat schulden kepe hem clene of heore bodies, Þei beoþ cumbred in care.
a1425  (?c1375)    N. Homily Legendary (Harl.) in C. Horstmann Altengl. Legenden (1881) 2nd Ser. 102 (MED)   Saint Peter, þat was pape of Rome And curature of cristendome.
a1450  (?a1390)    J. Mirk Instr. Parish Priests (Claud.) (1974) l. 11 (MED)   Wharefore þou preste curatoure..Loke thow moste on thys werk.
a1500  (?a1390)    J. Mirk Festial (Gough) (1905) 282 (MED)   Ych curatour ys holden..forto expowne þe Pater Noster to his paryschons ones oþyr twyse yn þe ȝere.

c1390—a1500(Hide quotations)


 2. Chiefly in Roman Law and legal systems derived from it: the guardian of a minor or other person not fully capable of conducting his or her own affairs; spec. the guardian of a minor after the age of tutelage. Cf. pro-curator n.2No longer current in Scots Law.

1471   in T. Thomson Acts Lords Auditors (1839) 19/1   The fyve ȝeris tak made to hir be Sir David Heris as curatour to his fader.
1483  (▸1413)    tr. G. Deguileville Pilgrimage of Soul (Caxton) (1859) iv. xxxviii. 64   They leden the kynge at theyr owne lust, ryght as tutours and couratours.
1555   in Rec. Parl. Scotl. to 1707 (2007) A1555/6/9   Quhen ony minor passis the yeires of his tutorie and desyris curatouris.
1590   H. Swinburne Briefe Treat. Test. & Willes iii. f. 102v   When he is of the age of 14. yeeres..the minor maie then..choose a curator, either the same person that was tutor or some other.
a1649   W. Drummond Hist. James V in Wks. (1711) 86   A Quarrel..arising between the Curators of the Laird of Langton, and one of his Uncles.
1651   T. Hobbes Leviathan i. xvi. 82   Mad-men that have no use of Reason, may be Personated by Guardians, or Curators.
1753   W. Stewart in Scots Mag. Mar. 132/2   He is tutor and curator..to several orphans.
1848   J. J. S. Wharton Law Lexicon 281/2   In England, the guardian performs the offices both of a tutor and a curator, under the Roman law.
1891   Pall Mall Gaz. 12 Nov. 6/1   The Dukes of Fife and Westminster as curators for the Duke of Sutherland's younger sons, oppose the petition.
2003   T. S. Miller Orphans of Byzantium ii. 36   Gradually, the custom evolved that orphans fourteen years or over could appoint a curator to help them with their affairs.

1471—2003(Hide quotations)

 3. In university contexts, frequently as a title.

 a. In some universities in continental Europe: a member of a board, or an individual official, having general responsibility for the whole university, and the power to select or nominate professors.

1612   King James VI & I His Maiesties Declar. conc. Proc. States Gen. Vnited Prouinces Low Countreys 10   The Curators of the Vniuersitie of Leyden..hauing diligently made inquirie for some Doctor to be chosen into the place of Diuinitie Professor there, at that time void.
1691   A. Wood Athenæ Oxonienses I. 406   The curators of that University [sc. Leyden] gave him an yearly stipend.
1728   E. Chambers Cycl. (at cited word)   The Curators are chose by the States of each Province: The Academy of Leyden has three; the Bourgemaisters of the City have a fourth.
1834   W. Hamilton in Edinb. Rev. Apr. 206   The curator [at Pisa] was charged with the general superintendence of student and professor; and whatever directly or indirectly concerned the wellbeing of the University, was within his sphere.
1840   Penny Cycl. XVIII. 322/1   An excellent system of public education..was introduced by the university of Vilna under the superintendence of its curator Prince Adam Czartoryski.
2013   D. Sinnema in J. J. Ballor et al. Church & School in Early Mod. Protestantism 433   Van den Honert was one of the new curators of Leiden University when the reform of the university began in 1619 at the urging of the Synod of Dordt.

1612—2013(Hide quotations)


 b. In Oxford University and (later) Durham University: a member of a board, or an individual official, having responsibility for various university buildings, funds, etc.In titles frequently with the holder's responsibility specified, as in Curator of the Bodleian Library, Curator of the University Chest, etc.

1669   J. Fell To Rt. Worshipful Heads of Colleges & Halls Univ. of Oxf. (single sheet)    For preserving of Order, there are, besides the Curators of the Theater, appointed several Proctors of it.
1710   in H. Bedford Vindic. Church of Eng. 172   The Curators in their Annual Visitation of the Library.
1818   Scots Mag. Oct. 346/2   Mr Gaisford is a curator of the Bodleian Library, generally believed to be the most extensive in the kingdom.
1877   Northern Echo 12 Jan. 4/4   The remains of Mr Wm. Proctor, the eminent naturalist, and curator of Durham University,..were interred in the cemetery of St. Mary-le-Bow Church.
1973   Sunday Tel. 7 Jan. 6/4   He [sc. Anthony Quinton] is chairman of the governors of Stowe (his own school),..a delegate of the Oxford University Press, chairman of the philosophy sub-faculty and a curator of the University Theatre.
2007   Times 1 Oct. 53/4   Having attended New College, he was pleased to be chairman of the University of Oxford's audit committee and curator of the University Chest.

1669—2007(Hide quotations)


 c. In Edinburgh University: a member of a body having responsibility for the election of a number of professors. Now more fully Curator of Patronage.By an Act of 1858, the patronage of seventeen professorial chairs, previously in the gift of the Town Council, was transferred to seven Curators of Patronage. Edinburgh Ordinance No 173 subsequently established that four of the Curators of Patronage are nominated by the University Court and three by The City of Edinburgh Council.

1748   Acct. Life & Writings Author p. iv in C. MacLaurin Acct. Sir I. Newton's Philos. Discov.   But being universally distinguished as one of the first genius's of the age, some of the curators of the university of Edinburgh, were desirous of engaging him to supply the place of Mr. James Gregory, whose age and infirmities had rendered him incapable of teaching.
1858   Universities of Scotl. Act (21 & 22 Vict. c. 83) §13   The Right of Nomination or Presentation to the Office of Principal and to all Professorships in the University of Edinburgh..exercised by the Town Council of Edinburgh..shall be transferred..to..Seven Curators.
1944   Brit. Med. Jrnl. 10 June 798/2   Sir John Fraser, Bt., K.C.V.O., honorary surgeon in Scotland to H.M. the King and regius professor of clinical surgery in the University, has been elected by the curators of Edinburgh University to the office of principal, and will take up the duties of that post on Oct. 1.
2017   K. Peach Managing Science iii. 12   The wonderfully named ‘Curators of Patronage’ have the power to nominate the principal, and participate in the appointment of several established chairs.

1748—2017(Hide quotations)


4. A person in charge; a manager, overseer, or steward. Cf. curate n. 3. Obsolete.

1632   W. Lithgow Totall Disc. Trav. ix. 381   The Ouen producing at one time three or foure hundred liuing Chickens..for the Hatcher or Curator, is only Recompensed according to the liuing numbers.
1691   T. Hale Acct. New Inventions 34   They who..are by the Crown made..Curators of the Health and Safety of its Ships.
1755   Gentleman's Mag. Nov. 495/1   The orthography might be in some measure altered by the curator of the impression.
1862   J. Ruskin Munera Pulveris (1880) 29   The real state of men of property being, too commonly, that of curators, not possessors, of wealth.

1632—1862(Hide quotations)


 (a) The official in charge of a museum, art gallery, library, or other such collection; a keeper, custodian.Frequently as a title.

1660   Minute 12 Dec. in T. Birch Hist. Royal Soc. (1756) I. 7   The following regulations were likewise resolved upon... That any bill of charges brought in by the amaneunsis and operator, and subscribed by the president and register, for any experiment made, and subscribed by the curators of that experiment, or the major part of them, be a sufficient warrant to the treasurer for the payment of that sum.
1664   Minute 16 Nov. in T. Birch Hist. Royal Soc. (1756) I. 488   It was resolved, that there shall be a curator by office; and that Mr. Hooke be proposed to the society as such.
a1684   J. Evelyn Diary anno 1661 (1955) III. 292   Our Diving bell..in which our Curator contin<ue>d halfe an houre under water.
1769   W. Hunter in Philos. Trans. 1768 (Royal Soc.) 58 42   Three drawings of the jaw-bone of that animal; which the curators of the British Musæum were pleased to give me leave to take.
1837   J. G. Lockhart Mem. Life Scott vii   In June 1795 he was appointed one of the Curators of the Advocate's library.
1987   A. Dillard Amer. Childhood (1990) ii. 211   Carnegie's plans for the art gallery had gone somewhat awry..because its first curator was a Scotch-Irish Pittsburgher whose rearing had made it painful for him to spend money.
2005   Independent 13 Oct. 9/4   Peter Makovicky, curator of dinosaurs at The Field Museum in Chicago.

1660—2005(Hide quotations)


 (b) A person who selects the items for an exhibition or festival programme, typically using professional knowledge or expertise; one who carefully selects and organizes a collection of items, esp. for exhibition, display, or publication.

1959   Industr. Design June 46/1   The collection, selected solely by guest curator William Friedman, opened May 3rd and is about to travel to seven co-sponsoring museums throughout the nation.
1998   Sydney Morning Herald (Nexis) 27 Mar. (Late ed.) (News & Features section) 13   More than 125 French films were produced last year, according to the festival's curator, Kari Hanet.
2015   J. Silverman Terms of Service 103   There's been a boom in aggregators, curators, linkers, and tastemakers, all glad to..tell you what to read.

1959—2015(Hide quotations)


 b. A person who oversees the management and upkeep of a park or gardens, esp. for public use.Frequently as a title.With use relating to Oxford University, cf. sense 3b.

1761   London Chron. 28 Feb.–3 Mar. 214/2   Tuesday last Mr. Charles Miller was appointed Curator of the new Botanic Garden at Cambridge.
1825   P. W. Watson Dendrologia Britannica I. p. xiii   Hull Botanic Garden... The plants procured by Mr. Donn, the Curator,..made an excellent beginning.
1872   Garden 31 Aug. 189/2   The high character given by Dr. Hooker to the Curator of Kew Gardens.
1938   Blue Bk. Of Year 1937 (Straits Settlements) i. 40   Contribution towards salary of Assistant Curator, Parks..1937, $ Nil.
1969   Victor Harbour (S. Austral.) Times 31 Jan. 1/2   Mr. W. D. Robinson, who was curator of parks and gardens at Mount Gambier for many years.
2008   Univ. Oxf. Bot. Garden News No. 69. 8/3   The Arboretum Curator is spraying off the grass around the trees to promote and aid their establishment.

1761—2008(Hide quotations)


 c. Australian. A person employed to maintain a sports ground, esp. a cricket ground; a groundsman.

1859   Star (Ballarat, Victoria) 22 July   We recommend the curators of the Cricket Ground to pay a little more attention to the crevasse made in the present side of the creek.
1933   Herald (Melbourne) 1 Dec. 3/5   Don Ryan, curator of the Lawn Tennis Association ground at Rushcutter's Bay, worked sorrowfully this morning.
1950   D. G. Bradman Farewell to Cricket 248   Sometimes I wonder if Australian curators roll the wickets too much and remove too much grass.
2000   Riverine Herald (Victoria) 14 Aug. 16/3   Situations Vacant..Curator. Part time position 4-6 hours per week, to assist in preparation of cricket pitch.

1859—2000(Hide quotations)


 6. Roman History. (The title of) any of various public officers under the Empire.

1661   W. Howell Inst. Gen. Hist. ii. iv. 436   The Ædiles, saith Cicero, are the Curators of the Citie, of provisions, and of solemn Games.
1728   H. Herbert tr. C. Fleury Eccl. Hist. II. 16   Callidius Gratianus who was Curator [Fr. curateur] in the year 314.
1841   W. Spalding Italy & Ital. Islands I. 103   The city was..divided into fourteen regions, each of which had two police superintendents, called Curators.
2010   Z. Várhelyi Relig. Senators in Rom. Empire iii. 100   Curators not only received their appointments from the emperor, but..these appointments were usually given only to those most intensively promoted and trusted by the ruler.

1661—2010(Hide quotations)




  With other nouns, with the sense ‘that is a curator’, or ‘that is both a curator and a ——’.

1910   Bath Chron. 13 Oct. 4/5   By the time the curator guide had reached the end of the conducted tour he would have such a following..that his only hope of escape would be to seek the sanctuary of a sarcophagus.
1947   Walla Walla (Washington) Union-Bull. 23 Nov. 16/1   James R. Templeton, right,..is shown with Tom Garth, left, curator-archaeologist of the Whitman national monument.
1964   Times 30 Nov. 10/5   Mr. Reginald Bloom, the curator-director of a privately owned zoo,..took off six seal pups.
1995   Sunday Times (Nexis) 26 Feb. (Features section)   David Sylvester, one of whose many endearing qualities as this country's most eminent curator-critic is an ability to make huge claims without flinching.
2001   Washington Post 13 Mar. (Style section) c1/3   Stuart, a playwright/professor, and Cordelia, his curator wife, are packing to move from Manhattan to Brooklyn.
2018   N.Y. Times (Nexis) 31 Oct. (Arts section)   Mr. Morgan said he contacted a curator friend who quickly established that the work had been stolen from Paul Rosenberg.

1910—2018(Hide quotations)


This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, December 2021; most recently modified version published online December 2022).

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