Ambulances as motor vehicles have been around since 1909, but the history of the word ambulance is much older. The word entered English in 1798, with the meaning "mobile hospital", describing entire camps that would move with armies. It's easy to see how the definition was extended, and the connections continue as we go back. In the original French, ambulance was actually hopital ambulant, which meant "walking hospital" (over time the hopital was clipped out). The ambulant part goes back to the Latin word ambulare, which "to walk"- not a large stretch from a camp but a huge one from speeding, screaming automobiles! Through French, this is also the source of our words ambulate and amble, both meaning "to walk" or even "stroll". It is theorized that ambulare derives from the Proto-Indo-European root ambhi, meaning "around", as in "stroll around". Gee, it's a good thing ambulances have sped up...
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.