Printable Version
Pronunciation: ahm-bêdz-mên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: An intermediary who mediates (hears and investigates) complaints of citizens against a government or the complaints of individuals and a large organization.

Notes: Although English did not bother to translate this word in borrowing it from Swedish (see Word History), we did translate the feminine correlate, ombudskvinna "ombudswoman". If you are not sure of the gender, ombudsperson is also acceptable. The work of an ombudsman or ombudswoman is always ombudsmanship, however.

In Play: Although today's word usually refers to a position in a federal government, ombudsmen can also be found at the local level: "The city council hired an ombudsman to sift through the growing number of complaints from the town folk of deteriorating city services." Here the ombudsman will mediate between the town folk and city hall. You might hear something like this at a university: "I'm just the chair of the department; I'm not the ombudsman between you and the board of trustees."

Word History: Today's Good Word was swiped from Swedish without so much as a by-your-leave or a shifted vowel. The man in ombudsman comes from the same source as English man and has correlates in all Germanic languages. The German correlate to Swedish om "about, around", is um. Both come from the same ancient root that gave Latin ambi- "from/on both sides" as in ambidextrous, and Greek amphi, as in amphitheater. Swedish bud means "command, order, message" and comes from an original root meaning "(make) awake, aware", found in Russian bodit' "to wake up" and Buddha, from Sanskrit bodhati "he awakes, becomes aware, is enlightened". (We are very happy that Jan Cordell became aware of today's Good Word and got it to us without the need of an ombudsman.)

Dr. Goodword,

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