Word Moment: Ombudsman

om·buds·man

n.

1. A man who investigates complaints and mediates fair settlements, especially between aggrieved parties such as consumers or students and an institution or organization.
2. A government official, especially in Scandinavian countries, who investigates citizens’ complaints against the government or its functionaries.

[Swedish, from Old Norse umbodhsmadhr, deputy, plenipotentiary : umbodh, commission (um, about; see ambhi in Indo-European roots + bodh,command; see bheudh- in Indo-European roots) + madhr, man; see man-1 in Indo-European roots.]

ombudsman·ship n.
Word History: The word ombudsman has one familiar element, man, but it is difficult to think of what ombuds could mean. Ombudsman is from Swedish, a Germanic language in the same family as English, and man in Swedish corresponds to our word man. Ombud means “commissioner, agent,” coming from Old Norse umbodh, “charge, commission, administration by a delegacy,” umbodh being made up of um, “regarding,” and bodh, “command.” In Old Norse an umbodhsmadhr was a “trusty manager, commissary.” In Swedish an ombudsman was a deputy who looked after the interests and legal affairs of a group such as a trade union or business. In 1809 the office of riksdagens justitieombudsman was created to act as an agent of justice, that is, to see after the interests of justice in affairs between the government and its citizens. This office of ombudsman and the word ombudsman have been adopted elsewhere, as in individual states in the United States. The term has also been expanded in sense to include people who perform the same function for business corporations or newspapers.
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