The word labyrinth was first used in 1387, in reference to the mythological maze in Ancient Greece. At the time, it was spelled laborintus, and other early spellings included laboryncus, loboryntus, labirinthos, labirinthus, and more. It wasn't until the late sixteenth century that it came to be regularly applied to other mazes. The word unsurprisingly comes from Ancient Greek, but beyond that it's a bit of a mystery. One major theory is that it might be from the Lydian word labrys, meaning "double ax", because the weapon was a symbol used to represent the palace of Knossos, where the original labyrinth was thought to be built. Alternatively, it might be from an unknown word in Linear A (a pre-Indo-European language in the area) because of a similar word meaning "cavern" in Linear B. We might never know, but both theories are very interesting!
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.