1670s, "perplex, throw into doubt," from French embarrasser (16c.), literally "to block," from Italian imbarrazzo, from imbarrare "to bar," from assimilated form of in- "into, upon" (from PIE root *en "in") + Vulgar Latin *barra "bar" (see bar (n.1)).
Meaning "to hamper, hinder" is from 1680s. Meaning "make (someone) feel awkward" first recorded 1828. Original sense preserved in embarras de richesse (1751), from French (1726): the condition of having more wealth than one knows what to do with. Related: Embarrassed; embarrassing; embarrassingly.