- a specially equipped motor vehicle, airplane, ship, etc., for carrying sick or injured people, usually to a hospital.
- (formerly) a field hospital.
- a motor vehicle designed to carry sick or injured people
1798, “mobile or field hospital,” from French (hôpital) ambulant, literally “walking (hospital),” from Latin ambulantem (nominative ambulans), present participle of ambulare “to walk” (see amble).
AMBULANCE, s. f. a moveable hospital. These were houses constructed in a manner so as to be taken to pieces, and carried from place to place, according to the movements of the army; and served as receptacles in which the sick and wounded men might be received and attended. [“Lexicographica-Neologica Gallica” (The Neological French Dictionary), William Dupré, London, 1801]
The word was not common in English until the meaning transferred from “field hospital” to “vehicle for conveying wounded from field” (1854) during the Crimean War. In late 19c. U.S. the word was used dialectally to mean “prairie wagon.” Ambulance-chaser as a contemptuous term for a type of lawyer dates from 1897.
- A specially equipped vehicle used to transport the sick or injured.