ta·​ma·​le | \ tə-ˈmä-lē How to pronounce tamale (audio) \

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 How to pronounce Tamale (audio) \

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 Immediately behind the tamale house, Sakhuu Thai’s door clangs open. Nick Rallo, Dallas News, "Bryan Street survival: How one of Dallas’ most essential dining blocks is living through crisis," 30 June 2020 This is a dish that takes all the best parts of a tamale, ditches the corn husks, and makes it into a casserole. cleveland, "Ground turkey can be delicious. No, really!," 9 June 2020 There are so many popular handheld foods: bagels, burritos, empanadas, kati rolls, pierogies, tamales, gyros! Jenny Singer, Glamour, "I Made Robert Pattinson’s Terrifying Quarantine Pasta," 13 May 2020 The dishes include chicken tamales, paella fritters, European-style dumplings, BBQ burnt ends, chicken parmesan, and bangin’ shrimp. Kathy Passero, cleveland, "‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives: Takeout’ | How to watch and live stream new episodes hosted by Guy Fieri," 24 Apr. 2020 Although most businesses are closed, chances are your favorite local spot for tacos, tamales or taquitos is still open. Los Angeles Times, "Five ways to celebrate Cinco de Mayo at home," 5 May 2020 The menu, from breakfast on, is vast and includes scores of Mexican specialties, from tacos and tortas to enchiladas poblanos and tamales. Florence Fabricant, New York Times, "Mexican Fare, Available for Takeout and Delivery," 28 Apr. 2020 Barajas got her start in food selling tamales for 15 years on the streets of San Francisco’s Mission District. Janelle Bitker, SFChronicle.com, "La Guerrera's Kitchen closes Oakland restaurant but plots new location," 23 Apr. 2020 The restaurant is also offering taco packs, fajita packs, enchiladas by the tray and tamales by the dozen. Rebecca Hennes, Houston Chronicle, "Faced with coronavirus restrictions, these 18 iconic Houston restaurants need your support," 23 Mar. 2020

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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Time Traveler for tamale

Time Traveler

The first known use of tamale was in 1854

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Last Updated

11 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Tamale.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tamale. Accessed 4 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for tamale


How to pronounce Tamale (audio)

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 How to pronounce tamale (audio) \

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

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