mid-14c., "ambergris, perfume made from ambergris," from Old French ambre, from Medieval Latin ambar "ambergris," from Arabic 'anbar "ambergris." In Europe, the sense was extended, inexplicably, to fossil resins from the Baltic (late 13c. in Anglo-Latin; c.1400 in English), which has become the main sense as the use of ambergris has waned. This formerly was known as white or yellow amber to distinguish it from ambergris, which word entered English early 15c. from French, which distinguished the two substances as ambre gris and amber jaune. The classical word for Baltic amber was electrum (cf. electric).
A hard, translucent, brownish-yellow substance that is the fossilized resin of ancient trees. It often contains fossil insects.
Our Living Language : Certain trees, especially conifers, produce a sticky substance called resin to protect themselves against insects. Normally, it decays in oxygen through the action of bacteria. However, if the resin happens to fall into wet mud or sand containing little oxygen, it can harden and eventually fossilize, becoming the yellowish, translucent substance known as amber. If any insects or other organisms are trapped in the resin before it hardens, they can be preserved, often in exquisite detail. By studying these preserved organisms, scientists are able learn key facts about life on Earth millions of years ago.