1. A person who held land from a feudal lord and received protection in return for homage and allegiance.
2. A bondman; a slave.
3. A subordinate or dependent.
[Middle English, from Old French, from Vulgar Latin *vassallus, from *vassus, of Celtic origin; see upo in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.