ta·ma·le | \tə-ˈmä-lē \

Definition of tamale 

(Entry 1 of 2)

: cornmeal dough rolled with ground meat or beans seasoned usually with chili, wrapped usually in corn husks, and steamed


geographical name
Ta·ma·le | \tä-ˈmä-lā \

Definition of Tamale (Entry 2 of 2)

town in northern Ghana population 371,351

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Tamale Has Origins in South America

Hot tamale is sometimes used figuratively, as in our second example, to suggest sexual attractiveness, but it's the word's literal use that puts it in an interesting category. How many English food words can you name that derive from Nahuatl, a group of languages spoken by native peoples of Mexico and Central America? You've probably guessed that "tamale" gives you one; it came to us (by way of Mexican Spanish) from the Nahuatl "tamalli," a word for steamed cornmeal dough. Add to the menu "chili" (from "chīlli," identifying all those fiery peppers); "chocolate" (from "chocolātl," first used for a beverage made from chocolate and water); "guacamole" (from āhuacatl, meaning "avocado," plus mōlli, meaning "sauce"); and "tomato" (from "tomatl"). Top it all off with "chipotle" (a smoked and dried pepper), from "chīlli" and "pōctli" (meaning "something smoked").

Examples of tamale in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Our tantalizing south-of-the-border menu is much more than your standard Tex-Mex tacos and tamales. Houston Chronicle, "Berryhill Baja Cantina," 27 June 2018 Tear 1 husk into thin strips and use to wrap around tamales, securing ends and sides. Amanda Garrity, Woman's Day, "Strawberry Tamales," 11 June 2018 The process of making all those tamales starts at 1 in the morning. Alex Kiesig, idahostatesman, "'I love this city': Eat your way through the Capital City Public Market," 6 July 2018 That said, Mosier swears that her pork tamale pie, which uses pork butt (a fatty cut of meat), keeps for a year or more without issue. Ac Shilton, Outside Online, "Stop Wasting Money on Prepackaged Backpacking Food," 1 May 2018 Best items: the jalapeño-cheese tamale bites from Mariposa's Latin Kitchen. Bud Kennedy, star-telegram, "More pizza is in Magnolia's future at Chimera. (And yes, more bacon burnt ends.) | Fort Worth Star-Telegram," 7 Mar. 2018 What looks good: Sweet tamale cakes with Sriracha mayo, sticky-sweet apricot-sesame cauliflower wings, miso creamed kale, and, for breakfast, a creamy oatmeal smoothie. Aliza Abarbanel, Bon Appetit, "5 New Vegetarian Cookbooks We're All About This Spring," 5 Mar. 2018 Or rabbit tamales with wolfberry jam and squash salsa. Dominic Armato, azcentral, "Helio Basin Brewing Co. brings Arizona cuisine to Phoenix brewery, but fascinating menu feels out of place," 6 June 2018 The roasted heirloom squash with harissa tamale and last year's tomato jam is a big hit and believe me most of [the diners] are meat eaters. Dana Mcmahan, The Courier-Journal, "How Louisville chefs re-imagine menus when you're just too hot to eat," 3 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tamale.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of tamale


1854, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for tamale


Mexican Spanish tamales, plural of tamal tamale, from Nahuatl tamalli steamed cornmeal dough

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Dictionary Entries near tamale






Tamalpais, Mount


Statistics for tamale

Last Updated

18 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for tamale

The first known use of tamale was in 1854

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English Language Learners Definition of tamale

: a Mexican food that consists of seasoned ground meat or beans rolled in cornmeal, wrapped in a corn husk, and steamed


ta·ma·le | \tə-ˈmä-lē \

Kids Definition of tamale

: seasoned ground meat rolled in cornmeal, wrapped in corn husks, and steamed

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More from Merriam-Webster on tamale

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Spanish Central: Translation of tamale

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about tamale

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