- Although you are undoubtedly familiar with the sound of the siren and the sight of the flashing lights of the ambulance, you may not necessarily know that the ambulance began as a walking hospital. The word "ambulance" indeed started off as a walking hospital, "un hôpital ambulant" in French, meaning literally "a walking hospital." The "hôpital ambulant" was devised during the campaigns of Napoleon to bring medical aid directly to his troops in the field. The original "hôpital ambulant" was a mobile unit designed to carry dressings and drugs to the wounded and evacuate the injured from the line of battle. The British, knowing a good idea when they saw it, came up with their own version of the "hôpital ambulant." But they economized by dropping the "hôpital" and corrupted "ambulant" to "ambulance." The French, of course, have for many years railed against the incursions of Anglo-Saxon words into the pure precincts of the French language.
Nonetheless, they rejected their own "hôpital ambulant" and embraced the English "ambulance." So, in France today you can no longer see a hospital walking but "ambulances" are very much in evidence.
* * *A vehicle used to transport sick or injured persons to a treatment facility. [Fr., fr. (hôpital) ambulant, mobile hospital]
* * *am·bu·lance 'am-b(y)ə-lən(t)salso -.lan(t)s n a vehicle equipped for transporting the injured or sick
* * *am·bu·lance (amґbu-ləns) [Fr.] a vehicle for conveying the sick or injured and equipped with apparatus for rendering emergency treatment.
Medical dictionary. 2011.