- One who murders by surprise attack, especially one who carries out a plot to kill a prominent person.
- Assassin A member of a secret order of Muslims who terrorized and killed Christian Crusaders and others.
[French, from Medieval Latin assassÄ«nus, from Arabic hÌ£aÅ¡Å¡ÄÅ¡Ä«n, pl. of hÌ£aÅ¡Å¡ÄÅ¡, hashish user, from hÌ£aÅ¡Ä«Å¡, hashish. See hashish.]
WORD HISTORY Active in Persia and Syria from the 8th to 14th centuries, the original Assassins were members of the Nizaris, a Muslim group who opposed the Abbasid caliphate with threats of sudden assassination by their secret agents. Other populations of the area regarded the Nizaris as unorthodox outcasts, and from this attitude came one of the names for the group, hÌ£aÅ¡Å¡ÄÅ¡Ä«n, a word originally meaning â€œhashish users,â€ which had become a general term of abuse. Reliable sources offer no evidence of hashish use by Nizari agents, but sensationalistic stories of murderous, drug-crazed hÌ£aÅ¡Å¡ÄÅ¡Ä«n or Assassins were widely repeated in Europe. Marco Polo tells a tale of how young Assassins were given a potion and made to yearn for paradiseâ€”their reward for dying in actionâ€”by being given a life of pleasure. As the legends spread, the word hÌ£aÅ¡Å¡ÄÅ¡Ä«n passed through French or Italian and appeared in English as assassin in the 16th century, already with meanings like â€œtreacherous killer.â€