1. A castrated man, traditionally employed as a harem attendant or as a functionary in certain Asian courts.
2. Often Offensive A man or boy whose testes are nonfunctioning or have been removed.
3. Derogatory An ineffectual or powerless man.
[Middle English eunuk, from Latin eunūchus, from Greek eunoukhos : eunē, bed + -okhos, keeping (from ekhein, to keep; see segh- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots).]
Word History: Eunuch goes back to the Greek word eunoukhos, "a castrated male employed to serve the women in the women's quarters of a household and to act as chamberlain," and the Greek word is derived from eunē, "bed," and ekhein, "to hold, to keep." A eunuch is a "bed-keeper," so to speak. To avoid suspicion about the parentage of their children, upper-class men in many ancient societies would post eunuchs to guard and serve in the bedchambers of the women of their households. Nowadays, when the word eunuch is mentioned outside of discussions of history and ancient customs, it is mostly used metaphorically, in the sense "an ineffectual man." In ancient times, however, the eunuchs who served powerful people were often far from being ineffectual. Since they were privy to the personal lives of ruling families and had the opportunity to acquire politically and financially useful information, some eunuchs amassed enormous personal fortunes and rose to positions of great power and responsibility.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.