Printable Version
Pronunciation: æm-bi-ênt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Surrounding a certain place, all-encompassing, pervasive. 2. Background, unobtrusively accompanying, as 'ambient music' or 'ambient light'.

Notes: There is a trick to this lovely word: remember it is spelled as it is spelled above, not ambiant. The noun, of course, is ambience (actually [æm-bi-ênts]), which may also mean "mood, atmosphere" (especially a pleasant one since it is such a beautiful word). The adverb is ambiently.

In Play: Although this word is more often used to describe light, temperature and music, it is equally applicable elsewhere: "When Rose Gardner entered the room, everyone succumbed to the ambient wonder of her presence." We often hear the second sense of this word in sentences like this: "The ambient music in a restaurant must suit the food and atmosphere of the establishment."

Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from Latin ambien(t)s, the present participle of ambire "to go around, encircle"—this time not via French ambiant. Latin created its verb from amb- "around" + ire "to go". Amb- was passed down from PIE ambhi- "around", which ended up in Sanskrit as abhitah "on both sides", ancient Greek as amphi "around", as in the English Hellenic borrowing amphitheater, Russian ob "around, about", German um "around, about", and English as about. Ire was made out of PIE ei- "to go", the remains of which we find in Sanskrit aiti "goes/comes", Greek eimi "to go", Russian idti "to go/come", Serbian ići to go/come", Spanish ir "to go", Lithuanian eiti "to go, walk", Latvian iet "to go, walk", Hindi jao "to go", and Norwegian eid "isthmus".

Dr. Goodword,

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