- lead (v.1)
- "to guide," Old English lædan "cause to go with one, lead, guide, conduct, carry; sprout forth; bring forth, pass (one's life)," causative of liðan "to travel," from West Germanic *laidjan (cf. Old Saxon lithan, Old Norse liða "to go," Old High German ga-lidan "to travel," Gothic ga-leiþan "to go"), from PIE *leit- "to go forth."
Meaning "to be in first place" is from late 14c. Sense in card playing is from 1670s. Related: Led; leading. Lead-off "commencement, beginning" attested from 1879; lead-in "introduction, opening" is from 1928.
- lead (n.1)
- heavy metal, Old English lead, from West Germanic *loudhom (cf. Old Frisian lad, Middle Dutch loot, Dutch lood "lead," German Lot "weight, plummet"). The name and the skill in using the metal seem to have been borrowed from the Celts (cf. Old Irish luaide), probably from PIE root *plou(d)- "to flow."
Figurative of heaviness since at least early 14c. Black lead was an old name for "graphite," hence lead pencil (1680s) and the colloquial figurative phrase to have lead in one's pencil "be possessed of (especially male sexual) vigor," attested by 1902. Lead balloon "a failure," American English slang, attested by 1957 (as a type of something heavy that can be kept up only with effort, from 1904). Lead-footed "slow" is from 1896; opposite sense of "fast" emerged 1940s in trucker's jargon, from notion of a foot heavy on the gas pedal.
- lead (n.2)
- c.1300, "action of leading," from lead (v.1). Meaning "the front or leading place" is from 1560s. Johnson stigmatized it as "a low, despicable word." Sense in card-playing is from 1742; in theater, from 1831; in journalism, from 1912; in jazz bands, from 1934.
- lead (v.2)
- early 15c., "to make of lead," from lead (n.1). Meaning "to cover with lead" is from mid-15c. Related: Leaded (early 13c.); leading.