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

His typical spread included barbecue, tacos, tamales, pork rinds with hot sauce, with a healthy complement of blue bell ice cream and Klondike bars. Caroline Hallemann, Town & Country, "Read the Full Transcript of George P. Bush's Eulogy for His Grandfather, George H.W. Bush," 6 Dec. 2018 Salsa and tamales past discard date found in walk-in refrigerator. Robert Gundran, azcentral, "Restaurant with no sneeze guard on salsa bar among this week's violations," 11 July 2018 Trace forehead pattern on a corn husk or tamale wrapper, scaling up or down as necessary; cut out. Country Living Staff, Country Living, "40+ Halloween Templates for Your Craftiest October Yet," 5 Sep. 2018 Efforts such as the brisket tamales confirmed a hunger for marrying quality barbecue with Mexican staples – something other craft barbecue joints were experimenting with, as well. Greg Morago, Houston Chronicle, "A Killen’s Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston?," 12 June 2018 The pork tamales come in a choice of mild, habanero or Hatch green chile. Bud Kennedy, star-telegram, "This Grapevine restaurant makes a '100 best' list — with tamales | Fort Worth Star-Telegram," 26 Feb. 2018 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

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

13 Dec 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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with tamale

Spanish Central: Translation of tamale

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about tamale

Comments on tamale

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a nest or breeding place

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