alb (n.)
late Old English albe, from Late Latin alba (in tunica alba or vestis alba "white vestment"), fem. of albus "white," from PIE root *albho- "white" (cognates: Greek alphos "white leprosy," alphiton "barley meal;" Old High German albiz, Old English elfet "swan," literally "the white bird;" Old Church Slavonic and Russian lebedi, Polish łabędź "swan;" Hittite alpash "cloud").
albacore (n.)
large variety of tuna, 1570s, from Portuguese albacora, from Arabic al bakara "milk cow;" the fish so called for its size.
Albania
Medieval Latin name of the country called by its inhabitants Shqipëri (literally "land of eagles," from shqiponje "eagle"), from Medieval Greek Albania, possibly from a pre-IE word *alb "hill" (also proposed as the source of Alps) or from the PIE root *albho- "white" (see alb). Roman Albania was a land by the Caspian Sea (modern Daghestan); in English Albania was occasionally also a name for Scotland.
albatross (n.)
1670s, probably from Spanish or Portuguese alcatraz "pelican" (16c.), perhaps derived from Arabic al-ghattas "sea eagle" [Barnhart]; or from Portuguese alcatruz "the bucket of a water wheel" [OED], from Arabic al-qadus "machine for drawing water, jar" (from Greek kados "jar"), in reference to the pelican's pouch (compare Arabic saqqa "pelican," literally "water carrier"). Either way, the spelling was influenced by Latin albus "white." The name was extended, through some mistake, by English sailors to a larger sea-bird (order Tubinares).

Albatrosses were considered good luck by sailors; figurative sense of "burden" (1936) is from Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (1798) about the bad luck of a sailor who shoots an albatross and then is forced to wear its corpse as an indication that he, not the whole ship, offended against the bird. The prison-island of Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay is named for pelicans that roosted there.
albedo (n.)
"ratio of light reflected from a surface," 1859, from Latin albedo, literally "whiteness," from albus "white" (see alb).
albeit (conj.)
late 14c., a contraction of al be it "al(though) it be (that)."
Albert
masc. proper name, from German (the French form is Aubert), from Old High German Adalbert, cognate of Old English Æþelbeorht "Noble-bright" (which was sometimes metathesized as Æþelbriht, hence the surname Albright). Second element is from Proto-Germanic berhta- "bright," from PIE *bhereg- "to shine; bright, white" (see bright). It also figures in the names Egbert, Gilbert, Herbert, Hubert, Lambert. As a kind of watch chain, from 1861 (see Prince Albert).
Alberta
Canadian province, founded in 1882 and named for Princess Louise Caroline Alberta (1848-1939), fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, wife of the governor general, John Douglas Sutherland Campbell, Marquess of Lorne. She was named for her father, Prince Albert.
Albigensian
c.1600, "relating to the Albigenses," Catharist religious reformers of southern France c.1020-1250, Medieval Latin Albigenses (12c.), from French Albi, name of the town in Languedoc where they lived and were first condemned as heretics (1176). The town name is from Roman personal name Albius, from Latin albus "white" (see alb).
albinism (n.)
1836; see albino + -ism. Alternative form albinoism is recorded from 1868.
albino (n.)
1777, from Spanish or Portuguese albino, from Latin albus "white" (see alb). Used by Portuguese of white-spotted African negroes. Extended 1859 to animals having the same peculiarity. A female albino formerly was an albiness (1808).
Albion
ancient name of England, Old English, from Latin, sometimes said to be from the non-Indo-European base *alb "mountain," which also is suggested as the source of Latin Alpes "Alps," Albania, and Alba, an Irish name for "Scotland." But more likely from Latin albus "white" (see alb), which would be an apt description of the chalk cliffs of the island's southern coast.
Breoton is garsecges ealond, ðæt wæs iu geara Albion haten. [translation of Bede's "Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum," c.900 C.E.]
Perfidious Albion translates French rhetorical phrase la perfide Albion, said to have been in use since 16c. but popularized by Napoleon I in the recruiting drive of 1813, a reference to the supposedly treacherous policies of Britain when dealing with foreign powers.
album (n.)
1650s, from Latin album "white color, whiteness," neuter of albus "white" (see alb). In classical times "a blank tablet on which the Pontifex Maximus registered the principal events of the year; a list of names." Revived 16c. by German scholars whose custom was to keep an album amicorum of colleagues' signatures; meaning then expanded into "book to collect souvenirs." According to Johnson, "a book in which foreigners have long been accustomed to insert autographs of celebrated people." Photographic albums first recorded 1859. Meaning "long-playing gramophone record" is by 1951, because the sleeves they came in resembled large albums.
albumen (n.)
1590s, "white of an egg," from Latin albumen "white of an egg," literally "whiteness," from albus "white" (see alb). The organic substance (which exists nearly pure in egg whites) so called from 1800, also known as albumin (1869, from French albumine).
albumin
see albumen.
albuminous (adj.)
1791, from albumen + -ous.
Albuquerque
city in New Mexico, U.S., founded 1706 and named for Spanish administrator and viceroy of Mexico Francisco Fernández de la Cueva, Duque de Alburquerque (1617-1676); name altered by association with Portuguese soldier Alfonso de Albuquerque (1453-1515), both named from Alburquerque, a town in Spain close to the Portuguese border, meaning "white oak;" ultimately from Latin albus "white" and quercus "oak."
Alcatraz
see albatross.
Alcestis
wife of Admetus, she offered her life for her husband and was rescued from the Underworld by Herakles, from Greek Alkestis, literally "valiant, courageous," from alke "protection, help, strength, power."
alchemical (adj.)
1580s; see alchemy + -ical.
alchemist (n.)
1510s, from Middle French alquemiste, from Medieval Latin alchimista (see alchemy). Earlier forms were alchemister (late 14c.), alkanamyer (late 15c.).
alchemy (n.)
mid-14c., from Old French alchimie (14c.), alquemie (13c.), from Medieval Latin alkimia, from Arabic al-kimiya, from Greek khemeioa (found c.300 C.E. in a decree of Diocletian against "the old writings of the Egyptians"), all meaning "alchemy." Perhaps from an old name for Egypt (Khemia, literally "land of black earth," found in Plutarch), or from Greek khymatos "that which is poured out," from khein "to pour," related to khymos "juice, sap" [Klein, citing W. Muss-Arnolt, calls this folk etymology]. The word seems to have elements of both origins.
Mahn ... concludes, after an elaborate investigation, that Gr. khymeia was probably the original, being first applied to pharmaceutical chemistry, which was chiefly concerned with juices or infusions of plants; that the pursuits of the Alexandrian alchemists were a subsequent development of chemical study, and that the notoriety of these may have caused the name of the art to be popularly associated with the ancient name of Egypt. [OED]
The al- is the Arabic definite article, "the." The art and the name were adopted by the Arabs from Alexandrians and thence returned to Europe via Spain. Alchemy was the "chemistry" of the Middle Ages and early modern times; since c.1600 the word has been applied distinctively to the pursuit of the transmutation of baser metals into gold, which, along with the search for the universal solvent and the panacea, were the chief occupations of early chemistry.
alcohol (n.)
1540s (early 15c. as alcofol), "fine powder produced by sublimation," from Medieval Latin alcohol "powdered ore of antimony," from Arabic al-kuhul "kohl," the fine metallic powder used to darken the eyelids, from kahala "to stain, paint." The al- is the Arabic definite article, "the."

"Powdered cosmetic" was the earliest sense in English; definition broadened 1670s to "any sublimated substance, the pure spirit of anything," including liquids. Modern sense of "intoxicating ingredient in strong liquor" is first recorded 1753, short for alcohol of wine, which was extended to "the intoxicating element in fermented liquors." In organic chemistry, the word was extended 1850 to the class of compounds of the same type as this.
alcoholic (adj.)
1790, "of or pertaining to alcohol;" see alcohol + -ic. Meaning "caused by drunkenness" is attested by 1872; meaning "habitually drunk" by 1910. Noun sense of "one who is addicted to drinking in excess, chronic drunkard, old rounder" is recorded from 1891; earlier alcoholist (1888). Alcoholics Anonymous founded 1935 in Akron, Ohio, U.S. Alky is first recorded 1844 as a slang shortening of "alcoholic liquor;" 1960 in the sense of "a drunkard."
alcoholism (n.)
"disease of alcohol addiction," 1852, from alcohol + -ism, or else from Modern Latin alcoholismus, coined in 1852 by Swedish professor of medicine Magnus Huss (1807-1890) to mean what we now would call "alcohol poisoning." In earlier times, alcoholism would have been habitual drunkenness or some such term.
Alcoran (n.)
older form of Koran, mid-14c., from Old French alcoran, from Arabic al-quran "the Koran" (see Koran), with the definite article (al-) taken as part of the name.
alcove (n.)
1670s, "vaulted recess," from French alcôve (17c.), from Spanish alcoba, from Arabic al-qobbah "the vaulted chamber," from Semitic base q-b-b "to be bent, crooked, vaulted."
Aldebaran
bright star in Taurus, late 14c., from Arabic Al Dabaran "the follower" (of the Pleiades, which rise shortly before it does), from dabara "he followed."
aldehyde (n.)
first oxidation product of alcohol, 1833, discovered in 1774 by German-born Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele (1742-1786), the name said to have been coined by German chemist Justus von Liebig (1803-1873) from abbreviation of Modern Latin alcohol dehydrogenatum "dehydrogenated alcohol."
alder (n.)
tree related to the birch, Old English alor "alder" (with intrusive -d- added 14c.; the historical form aller survived until 18c. in literary English and persists in dialects, such as Lancashire owler, which is partly from Norse), from Proto-Germanic *aliso (cognates: Old Norse ölr, Danish elle, Swedish al, Dutch els, German erle), from *el-, the ancient PIE name of the tree (cognates: Russian olicha, Polish olcha, Latin alnus, Lithuanian alksnis).
alderman (n.)
Old English aldormonn (Mercian), ealdormann (West Saxon) "ruler, prince, chief; chief officer of a shire," from aldor, ealder "patriarch" (comparative of ald "old;" see old) + monn, mann "man" (see man (n.)). A relic of the days when the elders were automatically in charge of the clan or tribe, but already in Old English used for king's viceroys, regardless of age. The word yielded in Old English to eorl, and after the Norman Conquest to count (n.). Meaning "headman of a guild" (early 12c.) passed to "magistrate of a city" (c.1200) as the guilds became identified with municipal government.
Aldine (n.)
type font, 1837, from Aldus Manutius (1450-1515), Venetian printer who used it in his popular editions of Greek and Roman classics. His name is a Latinized form of Italian Aldo Manuzio, the first name short for Teobaldo (see Theobald), and, like so many Italian masc. given names, of Germanic origin. The device characteristic of Aldine books is a figure of a dolphin on an anchor.
aldosterone (n.)
isolated 1953, named with -one + elements of aldehyde, sterol.
ale (n.)
Old English ealu "ale, beer," from Proto-Germanic *aluth- (cognates: Old Saxon alo, Old Norse öl), perhaps from PIE root meaning "bitter" (cognates: Latin alumen "alum"), or from PIE *alu-t "ale," from root *alu-, which has connotations of "sorcery, magic, possession, intoxication." The word was borrowed from Germanic into Lithuanian (alus) and Old Church Slavonic (olu).
In the fifteenth century, and until the seventeenth, ale stood for the unhopped fermented malt liquor which had long been the native drink of these islands. Beer was the hopped malt liquor introduced from the Low Countires in the fifteenth century and popular first of all in the towns. By the eighteenth century, however, all malt liquor was hopped and there had been a silent mutation in the meaning of the two terms. For a time the terms became synonymous, in fact, but local habits of nomenclature still continued to perpetuate what had been a real difference: 'beer' was the malt liquor which tended to be found in towns, 'ale' was the term in general use in the country districts. [Peter Mathias, "The Brewing Industry in England," Cambridge University Press, 1959]
Meaning "festival or merry-meeting at which much ale was drunk" was in Old English (see bridal).
aleatory (adj.)
"of uncertain outcome," literally "depending on the throw of a die," 1690s, from Latin aleatorius "pertaining to a gamester," from aleator "a dice player," from alea "a game with dice; chance, hazard, risk; a die, the dice;" perhaps literally "a joint-bone, a pivot-bone," and related to axis.
alectryomachy (n.)
"cock-fighting," 1650s, from Greek alektryon "cock" (see alectryomancy) + -machy.
alectryomancy (n.)
"divination by means of a cock and grains of corn," 1680s, from Latinized form of Greek alektryon "cock" + manteia "oracle" (see -mancy). The first element is literally "warder-off, fighter," related to alexein "to ward off, drive or keep off" (see Alexander). And compare Alekto, one of the three Furies.
alehouse (n.)
also ale-house, Old English eala-huse; see ale + house (n.). An alehouse "is distinguished from a tavern, where they sell wine" [Johnson].
Alemanni
name of a Suebic tribe or confederation that settled in Alsace and part of Switzerland (and source of French Allemand "German, a German"), from Proto-Germanic *Alamanniz, probably meaning "all-man" and denoting a wide alliance of tribes, but perhaps meaning "foreign men" (compare Allobroges, name of a Celtic tribe in what is now Savoy, in Latin literally "the aliens," in reference to their having driven out the original inhabitants), in which case the al- is cognate with the first element in Latin alius "the other" and English else.
alembic (n.)
late 14c., from Middle French alambic (13c.), via Old Spanish, from Arabic al-anbiq "distilling flask," from Greek ambix "cup," of unknown, possibly Semitic, origin. Often spelled limbeck 15c.-17c.
aleph (n.)
Hebrew and Phoenician letter, c.1300, from Semitic languages, pausal form of eleph "ox" (the character might have developed from a hieroglyph of an ox's head); also see alphabet.
alert (adv.)
"on the watch," 1590s, from French alerte "vigilant" (17c.), from phrase à l'erte "on the watch," from Italian all'erta "to the height," from erta "lookout, high tower," noun use of fem. of erto, past participle of ergere "raise up," from Latin erigere "raise" (see erect). The adjective is attested from 1610s, the noun from 1803, and the verb from 1868. Related: Alerted; alerting.
alertly (adv.)
1787, from alert + -ly (2).
alertness (n.)
1714, from alert + -ness.
Alethea
fem. proper name, from Greek aletheia "truth, truthfulness," from alethes "true," literally "not concealing," from privative prefix a- "not" (see a- (3)) + lethe "forgetfulness, oblivion" (see latent).
Aleut
native of the Aleutian Islands, 1780, of unknown origin, probably from a native word. First applied by Russian explorers c.1750, perhaps from Alut, name of a coastal village in Kamchatka [Bright]. Their name for themselves is unangax.
alewife (n.)
herring-like fish of North America, 1630s, named from the word for female tavern keepers (late 14c.), from ale + wife; the fish so called in reference to its large abdomen.
Alexander
masc. proper name, from Latin, from Greek Alexandros "defender of men," from alexein "to ward off, keep off, turn (something) away, defend, protect" + aner (genitive andros) "man" (see anthropo-). The first element is related to Greek alke "protection, help, strength, power, courage," alkimos "strong;" cognate with Sanskrit raksati "protects," Old English ealgian "to defend." As a kind of cocktail, it is attested from 1930.
Alexandrine
in reference to a type of verse line, 1580s (adj.); 1660s (n.), said to be from Old French Roman d'Alexandre, name of a poem about Alexander the Great that was popular in the Middle Ages, which used a 12-syllable line of 6 feet (the French heroic verse); it was used in English to vary the heroic verse of 5 feet. The name also sometimes is said to be from Alexandre de Paris, 13c. French poet, who used such a line (and who also wrote one of the popular Alexander the Great poems).
Alexis
masc. proper name, from Greek alexis, from alexein "to ward off, keep, protect" (see Alexander). The Latin form was Alexius.