altimeter (n.) Look up altimeter at
1918, from Modern Latin altimeter, from alti- "high" (from Latin altus; see old) + -meter.
altimetry (n.) Look up altimetry at
1690s, from Medieval Latin altimetria, from Latin alti- "high" (see old) + Greek -metria (see -metry).
altitude (n.) Look up altitude at
late 14c., from Latin altitudinem (nominative altitudo) "height, altitude," from altus "high" (see old).
alto (n.) Look up alto at
1784, "man with an alto voice," from Italian alto (canto), from Latin altus "high" (see old). Originally a "high" man's voice, now more commonly applied to the lower range of women's voices (which is more strictly the contralto), an extension first recorded in 1881.
The alto in a man is totally distinct from the contralto in a woman. The tone is utterly different -- the best notes of the one are certainly not the best notes of the other; and although in certain cases a contralto may sing with good effect music written for a male alto (e.g. in some oratorios), yet the converse is scarcely ever true. ["How to Sing," 1890]
As a type of saxophone, from 1869.
altogether Look up altogether at
early 13c., altogedere, a strengthened form of all (also see together); used in the sense of "a whole" from 1660s. The altogether "nude" is from 1894.
altruism (n .) Look up altruism at
1853, "unselfishness, opposite of egoism," from French altruisme, coined or popularized 1830 by French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857), from autrui, from Old French altrui, "of or to others," from Latin alteri, dative of alter "other" (see alter). Apparently suggested to Comte by French legal phrase l'autrui, or in full, le bien, le droit d'autrui. The -l- is perhaps a reinsertion from the Latin word.
There is a fable that when the badger had been stung all over by bees, a bear consoled him by a rhapsodic account of how he himself had just breakfasted on their honey. The badger replied peevishly, "The stings are in my flesh, and the sweetness is on your muzzle." The bear, it is said, was surprised at the badger's want of altruism. ["George Eliot," "Theophrastus Such," 1879]
altruist (n.) Look up altruist at
1842, from French; see altruism + -ist.
altruistic (adj.) Look up altruistic at
1853, from French altruiste (adj.), from altruisme (see altruism) + -ic.
alum (n.) Look up alum at
late 14c., "whitish mineral salt used as an astringent, dye, etc.," from Old French alum, from Latin alumen "alum," literally "bitter salt," cognate with Greek aludoimos "bitter" and perhaps with English ale.
aluminium Look up aluminium at
see aluminum.
aluminum (n.) Look up aluminum at
1812, coined by English chemist Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829), from alumina, name given 18c. to aluminum oxide, from Latin alumen "alum" (see alum). Davy originally called it alumium (1808), then amended this to aluminum, which remains the U.S. word, but British editors in 1812 further amended it to aluminium, the modern preferred British form, to better harmonize with other metallic element names (sodium, potassium, etc.).
Aluminium, for so we shall take the liberty of writing the word, in preference to aluminum, which has a less classical sound. ["Quarterly Review," 1812]
alumna (n.) Look up alumna at
see alumnus.
alumnae (n.) Look up alumnae at
see alumnus.
alumni (n.) Look up alumni at
see alumnus.
alumnus (n.) Look up alumnus at
1640s, from Latin alumnus "a pupil," literally "foster son," vestigial present passive participle of alere "to nourish" (see old), with ending akin to Greek -omenos. Plural is alumni. Fem. is alumna (1882), fem. plural alumnae.
alveolar (adj.) Look up alveolar at
"pertaining to alveoli," 1799, from Modern Latin alveolus "socket of a tooth" (see alveolus).
alveolus (n.) Look up alveolus at
1706, from Latin alveolus "a tray, trough, basin; bed of a small river," diminutive of alvus "belly, stomach, paunch, bowels; hold of a ship," from PIE *aulo- "hole, cavity" (source also of Greek aulos "flute, tube, pipe;" Serbo-Croatian, Polish, Russian ulica "street," originally "narrow opening;" Old Church Slavonic uliji, Lithuanian aulys "beehive" (hollow trunk), Armenian yli "pregnant").
always (adv.) Look up always at
mid-14c., compound of Old English phrase ealne weg "always, quite, perpetually," literally "all the way," with accusative of space or distance, though the oldest recorded usages refer to time; see all + way (n.). The adverbial genitive -s appeared early 13c. and is now the standard, though the variant alway survived into 1800s. OED speculates allway was originally of space or distance, "but already in the oldest Eng. transferred to an extent of time."
Alyssum (n.) Look up Alyssum at
genus name for plants of the mustard family, 1550s, from Latin alysson, from Greek alysson, which is perhaps the neuter of adjective alyssos "curing madness," from privative prefix a- + lyssa "madness, martial rage, fury," an abstract word probably literally "wolf-ness" and related to lykos "wolf" (see wolf (n.)); but some see a connection with "light" words, in reference to the glittering eyes of the mad.
Alzheimer's disease Look up Alzheimer's disease at
(senium præcox), 1912, title of article by S.C. Fuller published in "Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases;" named for German neurologist Alois Alzheimer (1864-1915). The name was not common before 1970s; shortened form Alzheimer's first recorded 1954. The surname is from the place name Alzheim, literally "Old Hamlet."
am (v.) Look up am at
Old English eom "to be, to remain," (Mercian eam, Northumbrian am), from PIE *esmi- (source also of Old Norse emi, Gothic im, Hittite esmi, Old Church Slavonic jesmi, Lithuanian esmi), from root *es-, the S-ROOT, which also yielded Greek esti-, Latin est, Sanskrit as-, and German ist.

In Old English it existed only in present tense, all other forms being expressed in the W-BASE (see were, was). This cooperative verb is sometimes referred to by linguists as *es-*wes-. Until the distinction broke down 13c., *es-*wes- tended to express "existence," with beon meaning something closer to "come to be" (see be).

Old English am had two plural forms: 1. sind/sindon, sie and 2. earon/aron. The s- form (also used in the subjunctive) fell from use in English in the early 13c. (though it continues in German sind, the 3rd person plural of "to be") and was replaced by forms of be, but aron (aren, arn, are, from Proto-Germanic *ar-, probably a variant of PIE root *es-) continued, and as am and be merged it encroached on some uses that previously had belonged to be. By the early 1500s it had established its place in standard English. Art became archaic in the 1800s.
amable (adj.) Look up amable at
"friendly, courteous," early 15c., from Old French amable, from Latin amabilem "lovely," from amare "to love" (see Amy). Related: Amably; amability.
amah (n.) Look up amah at
"wet-nurse," 1839, Anglo-Indian, from Portuguese ama "nurse," from Medieval Latin amma "mother," from PIE root *am-, forming nursery words.
amain (adv.) Look up amain at
1530s, from main (adj.) by analogy with other words in a- (such as afoot).
amalgam (n.) Look up amalgam at
c. 1400, "blend of mercury with another metal; soft mass formed by chemical manipulation," from Old French amalgame or directly from Medieval Latin amalgama, "alloy of mercury (especially with gold or silver)," an alchemists' word, perhaps an alteration of Latin malagma "poultice, plaster," probably from Arabic al-malgham "an emollient poultice or unguent for sores (especially warm)" [Francis Johnson, "A Dictionary of Persian, Arabic, and English"], perhaps from Greek malagma "softening substance," from malassein "to soften," from malakos "soft."
amalgamate (v.) Look up amalgamate at
1650s, back-formation from amalgamation, or from adjective amalgamate (1640s) from amalgam. Originally in metallurgy; figurative sense of "to unite" (races, etc.) is attested from 1802. Related: Amalgamated; amalgamating. Earlier verb was amalgamen (1540s).
amalgamation (n.) Look up amalgamation at
1610s, noun of action from archaic amalgam (v.) "to alloy with mercury" (see amalgamate). Figurative, non-chemical sense of "a combining into one uniform whole" is attested from 1775.
amalgamize (v.) Look up amalgamize at
1590s, from amalgam + -ize. Related: Amalgamized; amalgamizing.
Amanda Look up Amanda at
fem. proper name, literally "worthy to be loved," fem. of Latin amandus "pleasing," gerundive of amare "to love" (see Amy). A top 10 list name for girls born in U.S. between 1976 and 1995.
amanuensis (n.) Look up amanuensis at
"one who takes dictation," 1610s, from Latin amanuensis "adjective used as a noun," from servus a manu "secretary," literally "servant from the hand," from a "from" + manu, ablative of manus "hand" (see manual (adj.)).
amaranth (n.) Look up amaranth at
1610s, from French amarante, from Latin amarantus, from Greek amarantos, name of an unfading flower, literally "everlasting," from a- "not" + stem of marainein "die away, waste away, quench, extinguish," from PIE *mer- "to rub away, harm" (see nightmare). In classical use, a poet's word for an imaginary flower that never fades. It was applied to a genus of ornamental plants 1550s. Ending influenced by plant names with Greek -anthos "flower."
amaranthine (adj.) Look up amaranthine at
1660s, "unfading, undying," poetic (apparently coined by Milton), also amarantine; see amaranth + -ine (1). Later used of a purple color.
Amaretto Look up Amaretto at
Italian almond-flavored liqueur, 1945 (the original brand, Amaretto di Saronno, dates to 1851), from the Italian word for almond (q.v.), which did not acquire the excrescent -l- of the English word. Sometimes confused with amoretto. Amoroso (literally "lover"), a type of sweetened sherry, is attested from c. 1870.
amarillo (n.) Look up amarillo at
name given to several species of American trees, from Spanish, from Arabic anbari "yellow, amber-colored," from anbar "amber" (see amber). The city Amarillo in Texas, U.S., may be so called from the color of the banks of a nearby stream.
amaryllis (n.) Look up amaryllis at
autumn-flowering bulbs, 1794, adopted by Linnaeus from Latin, from Greek Amaryllis, typical name of a country girl or shepherdess (in Theocritus, Virgil, Ovid, etc.).
amass (v.) Look up amass at
late 15c., "to heap up for oneself," from Old French amasser, from à "to" (see ad-) + masser (see mass (n.1)). Related: Amassed; amassing.
amastia (n.) Look up amastia at
medical Latin, from Greek amastos "without breasts," from privative prefix a- (see a- (3)) + mastos "breast" (see masto-) + abstract noun ending -ia.
amateur (n.) Look up amateur at
1784, "one who has a taste for (something)," from French amateur "lover of," from Latin amatorem (nominative amator) "lover," agent noun from amatus, past participle of amare "to love" (see Amy). Meaning "dabbler" (as opposed to professional) is from 1786. As an adjective, by 1838.
amateurish (adj.) Look up amateurish at
1863; from amateur + -ish. Related: Amateurishly; amateurishness.
amative (adj.) Look up amative at
1630s, "pertaining to love," from Latin amat-, past participle stem of amare "to love" (see Amy) + -ive.
amatory (adj.) Look up amatory at
1590s, "pertaining to love" (especially sexual love), from Latin amatorius "loving," from amatus, past participle of amare (see Amy).
amaze (v.) Look up amaze at
early 13c., amasian "stupefy, make crazy," from a-, probably used here as an intensive prefix, + -masian, related to maze (q.v.). Sense of "overwhelm with wonder" is from 1580s. Related: Amazed; amazing.
amazement (n.) Look up amazement at
1590s, "mental stupefaction," early use of the Latin suffix with a native verb, from amaze + -ment. Meaning "overwhelming wonder" is c. 1600.
amazing (adj.) Look up amazing at
early 15c., "stupefactive;" 1590s, "dreadful;" present participle adjective from amaze. Sense of "wonderful" is recorded from 1704. Related: Amazingly.
Amazon (n.) Look up Amazon at
late 14c., from Greek Amazon (mostly in plural Amazones) "one of a race of female warriors in Scythia," probably from an unknown non-Indo-European word, possibly from an Iranian compound *ha-maz-an- "(one) fighting together" [Watkins], but in folk etymology long derived from a- "without" + mazos "breasts," hence the story that the Amazons cut or burned off one breast so they could draw bowstrings more efficiently.

The river in South America (originally called by the Spanish Rio Santa Maria de la Mar Dulce) rechristened by Francisco de Orellana, 1541, after an encounter with female warriors of the Tapuyas (or, as some say, beardless, long-haired male tribesmen; still others hold that the name is a corruption of a native word in Tupi or Guarani meaning "wave").
ambagious (adj.) Look up ambagious at
1650s, from French ambagieux, from Latin ambagiosus, from ambages "circuits, circumlocutions," from amb- "about" (see ambi-) + agere "to drive" (see act (n.)).
ambassador (n.) Look up ambassador at
late 14c., also embassador, from Middle French ambassadeur, from Old French embassator, via Provençal or Old Spanish from Latin ambactus "a servant, vassal," from Celtic amb(i)actos "a messenger, servant," from PIE *ambhi- "about" (see ambi-) + *ag- "drive, lead" (see act (v.)). Compare embassy. Forms in am- and em- were used indiscriminately 17c.-18c.
ambassadorial (adj.) Look up ambassadorial at
1759, from ambassador + -al (1).
amber (n.) Look up amber at
mid-14c., "ambergris, perfume made from ambergris," from Old French ambre, from Medieval Latin ambar "ambergris," from Arabic 'anbar "ambergris." In Europe, the sense was extended, inexplicably, to fossil resins from the Baltic (late 13c. in Anglo-Latin; c. 1400 in English), which has become the main sense as the use of ambergris has waned. This formerly was known as white or yellow amber to distinguish it from ambergris, which word entered English early 15c. from French, which distinguished the two substances as ambre gris and amber jaune. The classical word for Baltic amber was electrum (compare electric).
ambergris (n.) Look up ambergris at
early 15c., from Middle French ambre gris "gray amber" (see amber), "a wax-like substance of ashy colour, found floating in tropical seas, a morbid secretion from the intestines of the sperm-whale. Used in perfumery, and formerly in cookery" [OED]. Its origin was a mystery in Johnson's day, and he records nine different theories. King Charles II's favorite dish was said to be eggs and ambergris [Macauley, "History of England"]. French gris is from Frankish *gris or some other Germanic source (cognates: Dutch grijs, Old High German gris; see gray (adj.)).
Praise is like ambergris; a little whiff of it, by snatches, is very agreeable; but when a man holds a whole lump of it to his nose, it is a stink and strikes you down. [Pope, c. 1720]