For a while I have been curious about the etymology of the English word 'ambulance' since it seems to be derived from the Latin word 'ambulare' (to walk). This seems a strange origin for the word. People who require medical attention are generally unable to move, much less walk. How did this word end up having the meaning it possesses?

  • I have edited the title, as it wasn't clear it's relevance to the question. Feel free to undo.
    – luchonacho
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 11:46
  • 1
    @luchonacho I thought it added a bit of levity
    – Stumbler
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 11:51
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    'walker' is not the one who require medical attention, but one who provides it (a doctor).
    – hvertous
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 14:43
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    Interestingly, in health services, ambulatory medicine is for patients that don't need and ambulance or a hospital.
    – Pere
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 18:03
  • @Pere Interesting indeed! Maybe because they are able to... ambulare? hehe
    – luchonacho
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 18:28

1 Answer 1


According to this XIX century book (a period when ambulances were still driven by horses):

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So it might be related to the fact that ambulances were going around by walking (of horses).

It seems, however, that the word enter into English from French (which itself comes from Latin) in the XIX century. At least that's what the Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology says (here, although paywalled):

moving hospital accompanying an army; vehicle to convey injured. XIX. — F. ambulance, repl. hôpital ambulant ‘walking hospital’, earlier hôpital ambulatoire; F. ambulant — prp. of L. ambulāre walk

More about the French word ambulance can be found here.


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