or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Around and About

History of Ancient Rome lecture series, word, got me thinking, blah blah blah.

This time (lecture 40, I think, "Women in Ancient Rome"), the word was "ambit", and you probably know that "ambit" means "scope" or "sphere of influence". What it got me thinking about was that if you tack on a common suffix, you get the word "ambitious", and it had never occurred to me before, but "ambit" must certainly be a relative, if not the progenitor, of "ambitious".

And so it is. Latin "ambire", "to go around", is a composite of "ambi-", "around" or "both" (as in "this side, and then around to the other side, and that's both sides"), and "ire", "to go". "Ambi-" more usually shows up in English meaning "both", as in "ambidextrous", dextrous on both sides, and "ambivalent", not the state of wishy-washiness but actually having equally strong feelings on both sides of an issue, because the second part of the word is from Latin "valens", "strong", as seen in such words as "valour" and "valiant".

"Ambit" is from the "around" sense of "ambire", obviously enough, given its meaning. "Ambitious" once had a more literal meaning related to "around": ambition was the act of going around to people to solicit their votes. Over time, the meaning shifted from the act of canvassing to the state of mind of the person who was committed enough to do this.

Other "ambi-" words that might interest you include "ambience" or "ambiance", which is the environment that surrounds you, and "ambiguous", "of shifting or dubious meaning", from "ambi-" plus "agere", "to act", the two parts combining to give the Latin word "ambigere", "to wander".


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