To ameliorate is to improve something, of course. But what a curious word! It came to English in the mid-seventeenth century from the French verb ameliorer, which came from two parts in Latin: the prefix a-, meaning "to" in this context, and the root melior, meaning "better". So, etymologically speaking, to ameliorate is also "to make something better", a definition very similar to today. Melior may be reconstructed to the Proto-Indo-European root mel, meaning "strong" or "large" (clearly, strength and size were equated with being better in this transition). The a- in ameliorate is equivalent to ad-, which comes from a Proto-Indo-European word sounding the same and meaning either "to" or "near". According to Google NGrams, usage of the word ameliorate peaked in the mid-1800s, then dipped in the mid-1900s, and is now more utilized than ever.
Adam Aleksic is a 216-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, and law. Adam is anxiously awaiting his rejections from 11 colleges and loves writing about himself in the third person.
The Etymology Nerd