A reader wonders about the difference in meaning between caretaker and caregiver:
It seems to me that they should have opposite meanings. Is there a difference in usage?
Although “to give” and “to take” describe opposite actions, caretakers and caregivers both mean “people who provide care and attention.”
Caretaker has been in the language since the mid-1800s. Its earliest meaning was “one who takes care of a thing, place, or person; one put in charge of anything.” Here are two early examples of the usage given in the OED:
The souter’s wife..was servant to Gilbert Brown..and..acted as nurse and care-taker to Agnes his daughter. (1858)
The caretaker of the house met them, hat in hand. (1859)
Caregiver is a newcomer that entered American English in the 1960s and migrated to British English in the 1970s. It means “a person, typically either a professional or close relative, who looks after a disabled or elderly person.” Caregiver can also refer to a parent, foster-parent, or social services professional who provides care for an infant or child.
According to estimates from the National Alliance for Caregiving, during the past year, 65.7 million Americans (or 29 % of the U.S. adult population involving 31 percent of all U.S. households) served as family caregivers for an ill or disabled relative.
In modern usage, caretaker is sometimes used with the same sense as caregiver, but it’s more commonly used with these two main meanings:
1. noun: a person who looks after property:
Alan John, caretaker at Buckholme Towers School in Lower Parkstone for 17 years, died in June this year at Forest Holme Hospice.
St. Louis looks to overhaul Soldiers Memorial, find new caretaker
2. adjective (or attributive noun): designating a government, administration, etc., in office temporarily:
CAS Coovadia, the MD of the Banking Association of South Africa, has been appointed as the caretaker CEO of Business Unity South Africa (Busa) while the business organisation looks for a new CEO.
Bulgarian president names new caretaker government
A group of people being looked after by a caregiver is called a “care group.” An individual being looked after by a caregiver may be called anything from “Mr. Jones” to “Momma.”