c. 1300, majour, "greater, more important or effective, leading, principal," from Latin maior (earlier *magios), irregular comparative of magnus "large, great" (from PIE root *meg- "great"). From 1590s as "greater in quantity, number, or extent." Used in music (of modes, scales, or chords) since 1690s, on notion of an interval a half-tone "greater" than the minor; of modern modes, "characterized by the use of major tonality throughout," by 1811. Major league, in baseball, is attested by 1892.
third letter of the Latin alphabet. Alphabetic writing came to Rome via the southern Etruscan "Caeretan" script, in which gamma was written as a crescent. Early Romans made little use of Greek kappa and used gamma for both the "g" and "k" sounds, the latter more frequently, so that the "k" sound came to be seen as the proper one for gamma. Classical Latin -c-, with only the value "k," passed to Celtic and, via missionary Irish monks, to the Anglo-Saxons. Also see cee.
In some Old English words, before some vowels and in certain positions, -c- had a "ts" sound that was respelled ch- in Middle English by French scribes (chest, cheese, church; see ch). In Old English -k- was known but little used.
Meanwhile, in Old French, many "k" sounds drifted to "ts" and by 13c., "s," but still were written -c-. Thus the 1066 invasion brought to the English language a flood of French and Latin words in which -c- represented "s" (as in cease, ceiling, circle) and a more vigorous use of -k- to distinguish that sound. By 15c. even native English words with -s- were being respelled with -c- for "s" (ice, mice, lice).
In some English words from Italian, the -c- has a "ch" sound (via a sound evolution somewhat like the Old French one). In German, -c- in loanwords was regularized to -k- or -z- (depending on pronunciation) in the international spelling reform of 1901, which was based on the Duden guide of 1880.
As a symbol in the Roman numeral system, "one hundred;" the symbol originally was a Greek theta, but was later reduced in form and understood to stand for centum. In music, it is the name of the keynote of the natural scale, though the exact pitch varied in time and place 18c. and 19c. from 240 vibrations per second to 275; it wasn't entirely regularized (at 261.63) until the adoption of the A440 standard in the 1930s. C-spring as a type of carriage spring is from 1794, so called for its shape.
military rank above captain and below lieutenant colonel, 1640s, from French major, short for sergent-major, originally a higher rank than at present, from Medieval Latin major "chief officer, magnate, superior person," from Latin maior "an elder, adult," noun use of the adjective (see major (adj.)).
His chief duties consist in superintending the exercises of his regiment or battalion, and in putting in execution the commands of his superior officer. His ordinary position in the line is behind the left wing. [Century Dictionary, 1897]
The musical sense is attested by 1797.
of a college or university student, "focus (one's) studies," 1910, American English, from major (n.) in sense of "subject of specialization" (by 1890). Related: Majored; majoring. Earlier as a verb, in Scottish, "to prance about, or walk backwards and forwards with a military air and step" [Jamieson, 1825] a sense derived from the military major.
addressing abbreviation for care of; common by 1889.
also majordomo, "man employed to superintend a household, especially that of a sovereign or other dignitary," 1580s, via Italian maggiordomo or Spanish mayordomo, from Medieval Latin major domus "chief of the household," also "mayor of the palace" under the Merovingians, from Latin maior "greater" (see major (adj.)) + genitive of domus "house" (from PIE root *dem- "house, household").
c. 1600, "increased," past-participle adjective from augment. The musical sense of "greater by a semitone than a perfect or major interval" (opposite of diminished) is attested by 1825.
in reference to major divisions of the nervous system, 1905, from para- (1) "beside" + sympathetic.