- sell (v.)
- Old English sellan "to give," from Proto-Germanic *saljanan (cf. Old Norse selja "to hand over, deliver, sell;" Old Frisian sella, Old High German sellen "to give, hand over, sell;" Gothic saljan "to offer a sacrifice"), perhaps a causative form of the root of Old English sala "sale." Meaning "to give up for money" had emerged by c.1000.
One of the first things a student of Old English has to learn is that the word that looks like sell usually means "give." An Old English word for "to sell" was bebycgan, from bycgan "to buy." Slang meaning "to swindle" is from 1590s. The noun phrase hard sell is recorded from 1952. To sell one's soul is from c.1570. Sell-by date is from 1972. To sell (someone) down the river is first recorded 1927, but probably from slavery days, on notion of sale from the Upper South to the cotton plantations of the Deep South (attested in this literal sense since 1851). To sell like hot cakes is from 1839.