c. 1400, laberynthe (late 14c. in Latinate form laborintus) "labyrinth, maze, great building with many corridors and turns," figuratively "bewildering arguments," from Latin labyrinthus, from Greek labyrinthos "maze, large building with intricate passages," especially the structure built by Daedelus to hold the Minotaur, near Knossos in Crete, a word of unknown origin.
Apparently from a pre-Greek language; traditionally connected to Lydian labrys "double-edged axe," symbol of royal power, which fits with the theory that the original labyrinth was the royal Minoan palace on Crete. It thus would mean "palace of the double-axe." But Beekes finds this "speculative" and compares laura "narrow street, narrow passage, alley, quarter," also identified as a pre-Greek word. Used in English for "maze" early 15c., and in figurative sense of "confusing state of affairs" (1540s). As the name of a structure of the inner ear, the essential organ of hearing, from 1690s.
updated on July 19, 2016