early 13c., "of or pertaining to the head," from Old French capital, from Latin capitalis "of the head," hence "capital, chief, first," from caput (genitive capitis) "head" (from PIE root *kaput- "head"). The meaning "main, principal, chief, dominant, first in importance" is from early 15c. in English. The modern informal sense of "excellent, first-rate" is by 1754 (as an exclamation of approval, OED's first example is 1875), perhaps from earlier use of the word in reference to ships, "first-rate, powerful enough to be in the line of battle," attested from 1650s, fallen into disuse after 1918. Related: Capitally.
A capital letter "upper-case latter," of larger face and differing more or less in form (late 14c.) is so called because it stands at the "head" of a sentence or word. Capital gain is recorded from 1921. Capital goods is recorded from 1899.
A capital crime or offense (1520s) is one that involves the penalty of death and thus affects the life or "head" (capital had a sense of "deadly, mortal" from late 14c. in English, as it did earlier in Latin). The felt connection between "head" and "life, mortality" also existed in Old English: as in heafodgilt "deadly sin, capital offense," heafdes þolian "to forfeit life." Capital punishment was in Blackstone (1765) and classical Latin capitis poena.
early 13c., "to raise or collect" (by authority or compulsion), from Anglo-French leve, from Old French levée "act of raising," noun use of fem. past participle of lever "to raise" (from PIE root *legwh- "not heavy, having little weight;" compare levee). Originally of taxes, later of men for armies (c. 1500). Related: Levied; levying.
"an act of levying, a raising or collecting of anything" (a tax, debt, fine, etc.), early 15c., from Anglo-French leve (mid-13c.), Old French levée "a raising, lifting; levying," noun use of fem. past participle of lever "to raise" (from PIE root *legwh- "not heavy, having little weight").
"head of a column or pillar," late 13c., from Anglo-French capitel, Old French chapitel (Modern French chapiteau), or directly from Latin capitellum "head of a column or pillar," literally "little head," diminutive of caput "head" (from PIE root *kaput- "head").
1829, colloquial shortening of elevenpence (see eleven). In U.S. before c. 1860, a Spanish real or an equivalent amount of some other money (about 12 and a half cents).
1610s, "a person's wealth," from Medieval Latin capitale "stock, property," noun use of neuter of Latin capitalis "capital, chief, first" (see capital (adj.)). From 1640s as "the wealth employed in carrying on a particular business," then, in a broader sense in political economy, "that part of the produce of industry which is available for further production" (1793).
[The term capital] made its first appearance in medieval Latin as an adjective capitalis (from caput, head) modifying the word pars, to designate the principal sum of a money loan. The principal part of a loan was contrasted with the "usury"—later called interest—the payment made to the lender in addition to the return of the sum lent. This usage, unknown to classical Latin, had become common by the thirteenth century and possibly had begun as early as 1100 A.D., in the first chartered towns of Europe. [Frank A. Fetter, "Reformulation of the Concepts of Capital and Income in Economics and Accounting," 1937, in "Capital, Interest, & Rent," 1977]
Also see cattle, and compare sense development of fee, and pecuniary. Middle English had chief money "principal fund" (mid-14c.). The noun use of the adjective in classical Latin meant "a capital crime."
late 14c.; see capital (adj.). So called because it is at the "head" of a sentence or word.
"to extort entertainment from, to levy extractions upon," 1630s, apparently a phonetic spelling of Irish coisir "feast, entertainment." Related: Coshering (1570s).
"tax, levy," 1530s, from the verb cess "impose a tax upon" (late 15c.), altered spelling of sess, short for assess (q.v.).