mid-14c., "clasp in the arms," from Old French embracier (12c., Modern French embrasser) "clasp in the arms, enclose; covet, handle, cope with," from assimilated form of en- "in" (see en- (1)) + brace, braz "the arms," from Latin bracchium (neuter plural brachia) "an arm, a forearm," from Greek brakhion "an arm" (see brachio-). Related: Embraced; embracing; embraceable. Replaced Old English clyppan (see clip (v.2)), also fæðm (see fathom (v.)). Sexual sense is from 1590s.
"a hug," 1590s, from embrace (v.). Earlier noun was embracing (late 14c.). Middle English embrace (n.) meant "bribery."