æm-bê-dek-strês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Equally dexterous or adroit with both hands (literally, having two right hands). 2. Two-faced, double-dealing, humoring both sides simultaneously, talking out of both sides of one's mouth.
Notes: The spelling of today's Good Word has been affected by its pronunciation: dexterous retains the E of Latin dexter "right-handed" but ambidextrous drops it. Keep in mind, however, that it pops back up in the noun, ambidexterity. (Funny little critter, isn't it?) The antonym is ambisinistrous "having two left hands, equally clumsy in both hands".
In Play: Boy, I'd give my right arm to be ambidextrous! If I were, I would be able to do things equally well with either hand: "Hardy Mehl is pretty clumsy (ambisinistrous) when it comes to work, but he is an absolutely ambidextrous eater at mealtime." Let's not lose sight of the second sense of today's word, though, "A successful labor negotiator has to be ambidextrous when dealing with both sides of the negotiations."
Word History: Today's word is an alteration of archaic ambidexter (with the skittish E mentioned above) which meant "double dealer" in Middle English. Both words come from Medieval Latin ambi- "on both sides" + Latin dexter "right-handed", so the original idea was "having two right hands". Ambi originally meant "from both sides" but came to mean "around", a meaning its descendants, like ambulate, bear today. We also see its traces in German um "around" and the om in Swedish ombudsman. The bud in that word comes from an Old Norse word (bodh) that meant "command", so that an ombudsman was (and remains) a man who finds ways around (om) the line of command in an organization. (Chuck Lee is a dexterous logophile who sees about getting Good Words like today's to us when he spots them.)
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