- amaze (v.)
- "overwhelm or confound with sudden surprise or wonder," 1580s, back-formation from Middle English amased "stunned, dazed, bewildered," (late 14c.), earlier "stupefied, irrational, foolish" (c. 1200), from Old English amasod, from a- (1), probably used here as an intensive prefix, + *mæs (see maze). Related: Amazed; amazing.
- amazement (n.)
- 1590s, "mental stupefaction, state of being astonished," from amaze + -ment. Meaning "overwhelming wonder" is c. 1600.
- amazing (adj.)
- early 15c., "stupefactive;" 1590s, "dreadful;" present participle adjective from amaze. Sense of "wonderful" is recorded from 1704. Related: Amazingly.
- Amazon (n.)
- late 14c., via Old French (13c.) or Latin, from Greek Amazon (mostly in plural Amazones) "one of a race of female warriors in Scythia," probably from an unknown non-Indo-European word, or 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. Also used generally in early Modern English of female warriors; strong, tall, or masculine women; and the queen in chess.
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). Others hold that the river name is a corruption of a native word in Tupi or Guarani meaning "wave").
- Amazonian (adj.)
- "bold, warlike," generally of women, 1590s, from Amazon + -ian. From 1847 in reference to the River Amazon.
- ambage (n.)
- late 14c., "winding or roundabout way, especially in speaking," usually plural, from Old French ambages, from Latin ambages "circumlocutions" (see ambagious).
- ambagious (adj.)
- "winding, devious, circuitous," 1650s, from French ambagieux, from Latin ambagiosus, from ambages "circuits, avoidings, circumlocutions," from amb- "about" (see ambi-) + agere "to set in motion, drive; to do, perform; keep in movement" (see act (n.)).
- ambassador (n.)
- late 14c., also embassador, "diplomatic emissary of a ruler in the court of another," from Old French embassator, ambassateor, which comes 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- (1) "to drive, lead" (see act (v.)).
Compare embassy. Forms in am- and em- were used indiscriminately in English 17c.-18c. Until 1893 the United States sent and received none, but only ministered (often called ambassadors), who represented the state, not the sovereign.
- ambassadorial (adj.)
- 1759, from ambassador + -al (1).
- amber (n.)
- mid-14c., ambre grice "ambergris; perfume made from ambergris," from the phrase in Old French (13c.) and Medieval Latin, from Arabic 'anbar "ambergris, morbid secretion of sperm-whale intestines used in perfumes and cookery" (see ambergris), which was introduced in the West at the time of the Crusades.
In Europe, amber was extended to fossil resins from the Baltic (late 13c. in Anglo-Latin; c. 1400 in English), and this has become the main sense as the use of ambergris has waned. Perhaps the perceived connection is that both were found washed up on seashores. Formerly they were distinguished as white or yellow amber for the Baltic fossil resin and ambergris "gray amber;" French distinguished the two substances as ambre gris and amber jaune.
Remarkable for its static electricity properties, Baltic amber was known to the Romans as electrum (compare electric). Amber as an adjective in English is from c. 1500; as a color name 1735. In the Old Testament it translates Hebrew chashmal, a shining metal.
- ambergris (n.)
- early 15c., from Old French ambre gris "gray 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], ultimately from Arabic 'anbar (see amber). Its origin was a mystery in Johnson's day, and he records nine different theories; "What sort of thing is Ambergrease?" was a type of a puzzling question beyond conjecture. King Charles II's favorite dish was said to be eggs and ambergris [Macauley, "History of England"].
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]
French gris is from Frankish *gris or some other Germanic source (cognates: Dutch grijs, Old High German gris; see gray (adj.)).
- word-forming element meaning "both, on both sides," from Latin ambi- "around, round about" (before vowels amb-, also sometimes reduced to am-, an-), from PIE *ambhi "around" (source also of Greek amphi "round about;" Sanskrit abhitah "on both sides," abhi "toward, to;" Avestan aibi; Old English ymbe, German um; Gaulish ambi-, Old Irish imb- "round about, about;" Old Church Slavonic oba; Lithuanian abu "both"). The PIE root probably is an ablative plural of *ant-bhi "from both sides," from *ant- "front, forehead" (see ante-).
- ambiance (n.)
- 1923, a reborrowing of the French form of ambience (q.v.), used in art writing as a term meaning "atmospheric effect of an arrangement."
- ambidexterity (n.)
- 1650s, with -ity + Medieval Latin ambidexter, literally "right-handed on both sides," from ambi- "both" (see ambi-) + dexter "right-handed" (see dexterity).
- ambidextrous (adj.)
- also ambidexterous, "able to use both hands equally," 1640s, with -ous + Medieval Latin ambidexter, literally "right-handed on both sides," from ambi- "both" (see ambi-) + dexter "right-handed" (see dexterity). An earlier English use of ambidexter (adj.) meant "double-dealer, one who takes both sides in a conflict" (late 14c.).
Its opposite, ambilevous "left-handed on both sides," hence "clumsy" (1640s) is rare. Ambidexter as a noun is attested from 1530s (in the sense "one who takes bribes from both sides") and is the earliest form of the word in English; its sense of "one who uses both hands equally well" appears by 1590s.
- trade name for prescription medication Zolpidem, which is used to treat insomnia, registered 1993 in U.S., no doubt suggested by ambient or words like it in French.
- ambience (n.)
- 1797, "environmental surroundings," used as a term in art for the arrangements that support the main effect of the piece, from French ambiance "atmosphere, mood, character, quality, tone," from Latin ambiens "a going around," present participle of ambire "to go around," from amb- "around" (see ambi-) + ire "go" (see ion). The notion of "going all around" led to the sense of "encircling, lying all around." Compare ambiance.
- ambient (adj.)
- 1590s, "surrounding, encircling," from Latin ambientem (nominative ambiens) "a going around," present participle of ambire "to go around, go about," from amb- "around" (see ambi-) + ire "go" (see ion). The notion of "going all around" led to the sense of "encircling, lying all around."
- ambiguity (n.)
- c. 1400, "uncertainty, doubt, indecision, hesitation," from Old French ambiguite and directly from Latin ambiguitatem (nominative ambiguitas) "double meaning, equivocalness, double sense," noun of state from ambiguus "having double meaning, doubtful" (see ambiguous). Meaning "obscurity in description" is from early 15c.
- ambiguous (adj.)
- 1520s, from Latin ambiguus "having double meaning, shifting, changeable, doubtful," adjective derived from ambigere "to dispute about, contend, debate," literally "to wander, go about, go around," figuratively "hesitate, waver, be in doubt," from ambi- "about" (see ambi-) + agere "drive, lead, act" (see act (n.)). First attested in Sir Thomas More (1528); related ambiguity dates to c. 1400. Related: Ambiguously; ambiguousness.
- ambisexual (adj.)
- "unisex" (of clothing), also "bisexual," 1912 in the jargon of psychology, from ambi- + sexual. Ambosexous (1650s) and ambosexual (1935) both were used in the sense "hermaphrodite." Ambisextrous is recorded from 1929 as a humorous coinage based on ambidextrous.
- ambisexuality (n.)
- 1916, from ambisexual + -ity.
- ambit (n.)
- late 14c., "space surrounding a building or town; precinct;" 1590s, "a circuit;" from Latin ambitus "a going round, a circuit, circumference," noun use of past participle of ambire "to go around, go about," from amb- "around" (see ambi-) + ire "go" (see ion).
- ambition (n.)
- mid-14c., "eager or inordinate desire for honor or preferment," from Old French ambicion (13c.), or directly from Latin ambitionem (nominative ambitio) "a going around," especially to solicit votes, hence "a striving for favor, courting, flattery; a desire for honor, thirst for popularity," noun of action from past participle stem of ambire "to go around, go about," from amb- "around" (see ambi-) + ire "go" (see ion).
Rarely used in English or Latin the literal sense. In early use in English always pejorative, of inordinate or overreaching desire; ambition was grouped with pride and vainglory, and sometimes meant little more than "arrogance." Neutral or positive senses are modern. Meaning "object of strong desire" is from c. 1600.
- ambitious (adj.)
- late 14c., "craving, yearning, overambitious," from Latin ambitiosus "eager for public office, eager to win favor, ingratiating," from ambitio "a going around (to solicit votes)," noun of action from past participle stem of ambire "to go around, go about," from amb- "around" (see ambi-) + ire "go" (see ion). Meaning "springing from ambition" is from 1751. Related: Ambitiously; ambitiousness.
- ambivalence (n.)
- "simultaneous conflicting feelings," 1924 (1912 as ambivalency), from German Ambivalenz, coined 1910 by Swiss psychologist Eugen Bleuler (1857-1939) on model of German Equivalenz "equivalence," etc., from Latin ambi- "both" (see ambi-) + valentia "strength," abstract noun from present participle of valere "be strong" (see valiant). A psychological term that by 1929 had taken on a broader literary and general sense.
- ambivalent (adj.)
- 1916, originally a term in psychology; back-formation from ambivalence. In general use by 1929.
- ambivert (n.)
- "person exhibiting features of an extrovert and an introvert," coined by Kimball Young in "Source Book for Social Psychology" (1927), from ambi- "about, around" + -vert (as in earlier introvert), which is ultimately from Latin vertere "to turn," from PIE root *wer- (3) "to turn, bend" (see versus). Related: Ambiversion.
- amble (v.)
- early 14c., from Old French ambler, of a horse or other quadruped, "go at a steady, easy pace" (12c.), from Latin ambulare "to walk, to go about, take a walk," perhaps a compound of ambi- "around" (see ambi-) and -ulare, from PIE root *el- "to go" (source also of Greek ale "wandering," alaomai "wander about;" Latvian aluot "go around or astray"). Until 1590s used only of horses or persons on horseback. Related: Ambled; ambling.
- amble (n.)
- "an easy walking gait (of a horse), the gait of a horse when both legs on one side are in motion at the same time," from Old French, from ambler (see amble (v.)). Of persons from c. 1600.
- ambler (n.)
- late 14c., agent noun from amble (v.).
- amblosis (n.)
- "abortion, miscarriage," 1706, Modern Latin, from Greek amblosis "miscarriage," noun of action from ambloesthai "to come to nought;" perhaps related to amblys "blunt, dull, weak," but the connection is uncertain. Related: Amblotic.
- amblyopia (n.)
- 1706, "weakening of the eyesight without any apparent defect in the eyes," medical Latin, from Greek amblyopia "dim-sightedness," noun of action from amblys "dulled, blunt" (from a suffixed form of PIE root *mel- (1) "soft;" see mild) + ops "eye" (see eye (n.)) + abstract noun ending -ia. Related: Amblyopic.
- masc. proper name, from Latin Ambrosius, from Greek ambrosios "immortal, belonging to the immortals" (see ambrosia). The Ambrosian Library in Milan, founded 1609 by Cardinal Borromeo, is named for Saint Ambrose (obit 397), bishop of Milan.
- ambrosia (n.)
- 1560s, "favored food or drink of the gods," from Latin ambrosia, from Greek ambrosia "food of the gods," noun use of fem. of ambrosios, probably literally "of the immortals," from ambrotos "immortal, imperishable," from a- "not" (see a- (3)) + mbrotos, related to mortos "mortal," from PIE *mer- (2) "to rub away, harm" (see mortal (adj.)). Applied to certain herbs by Pliny and Dioscorides; used of various foods for mortals since 1680s (originally of fruit drinks); used figuratively for "anything delightful" by 1731.
- ambrosial (adj.)
- 1590s, "immortal, divine, of the quality of ambrosia;" see ambrosia + -al. Sense of "Fragrant, delicious" is from 1660s. Other adjectives were ambrosiac (c. 1600); ambrosian (1630s).
- ambrotype (n.)
- type of photograph on glass with lights given by silver and shades by a dark background showing through, 1855, American English, apparently from Greek ambrotos "immortal, imperishable" (see ambrosia), with second element from daguerreotype.
This invention consists in an improved process of taking photographic pictures upon glass, and also of beautifying and preserving the same, which process I have styled "ambrotype." My improved process has reference to the art of taking pictures photographically on a film of collodion upon the surface of a sheet of glass, the collodion being suitably prepared for the purpose. By the use of the said process, the beauty and permanency of such pictures are greatly increased, and I have on this account styled the process "ambrotype," from the Greek word ambrotos, immortal. ["Specification of the Patent granted to James A. Cutting, of Boston, in the United States of America, Photographer, for an Improved Process of taking Photographic Pictures upon Glass and also of Beautifying and Preserving the same. Dated London, July 26, 1854," printed in "Journal of the Franklin Institute," September 1855]
- ambulance (n.)
- 1798, "mobile or field hospital," from French ambulance, formerly (hôpital) ambulant (17c.), literally "walking (hospital)," from Latin ambulantem (nominative ambulans), present participle of ambulare "to walk, go about" (see amble).
AMBULANCE, s. f. a moveable hospital. These were houses constructed in a manner so as to be taken to pieces, and carried from place to place, according to the movements of the army; and served as receptacles in which the sick and wounded men might be received and attended. ["Lexicographica-Neologica Gallica" (The Neological French Dictionary), William Dupré, London, 1801]
The word was not common in English until the meaning transferred from "field hospital" to "vehicle for conveying wounded from the field" (1854) during the Crimean War. Extended early 20c. to vehicles to transport the sick or wounded in civilian life. In late 19c. U.S. the same word was used dialectally to mean "prairie wagon." Ambulance-chaser as a contemptuous term for a type of lawyer dates from 1897.
- ambulant (adj.)
- 1610s, "walking, moving from place to place," from Latin ambulantem (nominative ambulans), present participle of ambulare "to walk, go about" (see amble (v.)). Of diseases, denoting cases in which the patient may be up and around, by 1913.
- ambulate (v.)
- "to walk, move about," 1620s, from Latin ambulatus, past participle of ambulare "to walk, go about" (see amble (v.)). Related: Ambulated; ambulating.
- ambulation (n.)
- "act of walking about," 1570s, from Latin ambulationem (nominative ambulatio), noun of action from past participle stem of ambulare "to walk, go about" (see amble (v.)). The word was used earlier in reference to the spread of disease (1540s).
- ambulatory (adj.)
- 1620s, "pertaining to walking;" also "movable; shifting, not permanent," from Latin ambulatorius "pertaining to a walker; movable," from ambulator, agent noun from past participle stem of ambulare "to walk, go about" (see amble (v.)). Middle English had ambulary "movable" (mid-15c.). Related: Ambulatorial.
- ambulatory (n.)
- "part of a building intended for walking," 1620s, from Medieval Latin ambulatorium, from Latin ambulatorius "movable, of or pertaining to a walker," from ambulare "to walk, go about" (see amble (v.)).
- ambuscade (n.)
- 1580s, "act of lying concealed for the purpose of attacking by surprise," essentially a variant form of ambush (q.v.), "now more formal as a military term" [OED]. It is a reborrowing of that French word after it had been Italianized: Ambuscade is from French embuscade (16c.), Gallicized from Italian imboscata, literally "a hiding in the bush," compounded from the same elements as Old French embuscher.
Sometimes in early use ambuscado, with a faux Spanish ending of the sort popular in 17c. As a verb, "attack from a concealed position," 1590s.
- ambush (v.)
- c. 1300, from Old French embuschier (13c., Modern French embûcher) "to hide, conceal, lay an ambush," from en- "in" (see in- (2)) + busch "wood," which is apparently from Frankish *busk "bush, woods," or a similar Germanic source (see bush (n.)). The notion probably is "hide in the bush," or "lure into the bush." Related: Ambushed; ambushing.
- ambush (n.)
- late 15c., embushe, "troops concealed to surprise an enemy," from the English verb or from Old French embusche "an ambush, a trap" (13c., Modern French embûche), from embuschier "to lay an ambush" (see ambush (v.)). Non-military sense from 1570s. Figurative use by 1590s. Earlier was ambushment (late 14c.), from Old French embuschement, Medieval Latin imboscamentum.
- ame damnee (n.)
- "devoted adherent, toady," from French âme damnée "familiar spirit," literally "damned soul," originally a soul damned by compact with a controlling demon. French âme"soul" (Old French anme, 9c.) is from Latin anima (see animus); for damnée see damn.
- see amir.
- fem. proper name, Latin, but of Germanic origin, literally "laborious" (cognates: Old Norse ama "to trouble"); the name was assimilated with Roman gens name Aemilia.
- ameliorate (v.)
- 1728, "to make better," in some cases perhaps a back-formation from amelioration on pattern of French améliorer, or else from Medieval Latin amelioratus, past participle of ameliorare. Intransitive sense "grow better" is from 1789. The simpler form meliorate was used in Middle English. Related: Ameliorated; ameliorating; ameliorable.