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1670s, "perplex, throw into doubt," from French embarrasser (16c.), literally "to block," from embarras "obstacle," from Italian imbarrazzo, from imbarrare "to bar," from in- "into, upon" (see in- (2)) + Vulgar Latin *barra "bar."
Meaning "hamper, hinder" is from 1680s. Meaning "make (someone) feel awkward" first recorded 1828. Original sense preserved in embarras de richesse (1751), from French (1726): the condition of having more wealth than one knows what to do with. Related: Embarrassed; embarrassing; embarrassingly.