noun, plural sam·bos. Older Use: Now Disparaging and Offensive.

a term used to refer to a black person, especially a male.
a term used to refer to a Latin American of black and Native American ancestry, or a person of black and white ancestry.

Also zambo.

Origin of sambo

1690–1700, Americanism; < American Spanish zambo black person, mulatto, perhaps special use of Spanish zambo bowlegged, said to be < Latin scambus < Greek skambós crooked

Usage note

Sambo was a common given name among black people during the slavery era; it was later a neutral term for a black person. However, after World War II, an increasing sensitivity to racial stereotypes caused the term to be perceived as demeaning and insulting. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for sambo

Contemporary Examples of sambo

Historical Examples of sambo

  • "Your turn now, Sambo," I told the peon after the sailor had gone.

    The Pirate of Panama

    William MacLeod Raine

  • Sambo cut him down when he was as black in the face as the honest negro himself.

  • It was not Sambo, however, but Legree, who was pursuing them with violent execrations.

    Uncle Tom's Cabin

    Harriet Beecher Stowe

  • The pair were driven back to his plantation, and that afternoon Sambo brought him to me.

    The Kentucky Ranger

    Edward T. Curnick

  • Then he once more raised his rifle, and pointed it at Sambo.

    Dick Leslie's Luck

    Harry Collingwood

British Dictionary definitions for sambo



noun plural -bos

slang an archaic and taboo word for a Black person: once used as a term of address
archaic the offspring of a Black person and a member of another race or a mulatto

Word Origin for sambo

C18: from American Spanish zambo a person of Black descent; perhaps related to Bantu nzambu monkey



sambo wrestling


a type of wrestling based on judo that originated in Russia and now features in international competitions
Derived Formssambo wrestler, noun

Word Origin for sambo

C20: from Russian sam (ozashchita) b (ez) o (ruzhiya) self-defence without weapons
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for sambo

"person of mixed blood in America and Asia," 1748, perhaps from Spanish zambo "bandy-legged," probably from Latin scambus "bow-legged," from Greek skambos. Used variously in different regions to indicate some mixture of African, European, and Indian blood; common senses were "child of black and Indian parentage" and "offspring of a black and a mulatto."


stereotypical name for male black person (now only derogatory), 1818, American English, probably a different word from sambo (n.1); like many such words (Cuffy, Rastus, etc.) a common personal name among U.S. blacks in the slavery days (first attested 1704 in Boston), probably from an African source, cf. Foulah sambo "uncle," or a similar Hausa word meaning "second son."

It could be used without conscious racism or contempt until circa World War II. When the word fell from polite usage, collateral casualties included the enormously popular children's book "The Story of Little Black Sambo" (by Helen Bannerman), which is about an East Indian child, and the Sambo's Restaurant chain, a U.S. pancake-specialty joint originally opened in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1957 (the name supposedly from a merging of the names of the founders, Sam Battistone and Newell "Bo" Bohnett, but the chain's decor and advertising leaned heavily on the book), which once counted 1,200 units coast-to-coast. Civil rights agitation against it began in 1970s and the chain collapsed, though the original restaurant still is open. Many of the defunct restaurants were taken over by rival Denny's.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper