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 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard College in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd