late 12c., "board, slab, plate," from Old French table "board, square panel, plank; writing table; picture; food, fare" (11c.), and late Old English tabele "writing tablet, gaming table," from Germanic *tabal (source also of Dutch tafel, Danish tavle, Old High German zabel "board, plank," German Tafel). Both the French and Germanic words are from Latin tabula "a board, plank; writing table; list, schedule; picture, painted panel," originally "small flat slab or piece" usually for inscriptions or for games (source also of Spanish tabla, Italian tavola), of uncertain origin, related to Umbrian tafle "on the board."
The sense of "piece of furniture with the flat top and legs" first recorded c. 1300 (the usual Latin word for this was mensa (see mensa); Old English writers used bord (see board (n.1)). Especially the table at which people eat, hence "food placed upon a table" (c. 1400 in English). The meaning "arrangement of numbers or other figures on a tabular surface for convenience" is recorded from late 14c. (as in table of contents, mid-15c.).
Figurative phrase turn the tables (1630s) is from backgammon (in Old and Middle English the game was called tables). Table talk "familiar conversation around a table" is attested from 1560s, translating Latin colloquia mensalis. Table manners is from 1824. Table-hopping is recorded by 1943. The adjectival phrase under-the-table "hidden from view" is recorded from 1949; to be under the table "passed out from excess drinking" is recorded from 1913. Table tennis "ping-pong" is recorded from 1887. Table-rapping in spiritualism, supposedly an effect of supernatural powers, is from 1853.
Middle English, representing the merger or mutual influence of two words, one from Old English, one from an Old French form of the same Germanic word, and both ultimately from a PIE root meaning "cattle."
The Old English word is feoh "livestock, cattle; movable property; possessions in livestock, goods, or money; riches, treasure, wealth; money as a medium of exchange or payment," from Proto-Germanic *fehu (source also of Old Saxon fehu, Old High German fihu, German Vieh "cattle," Gothic faihu "money, fortune"). This is from PIE *peku- "cattle" (source also of Sanskrit pasu, Lithuanian pekus "cattle;" Latin pecu "cattle," pecunia "money, property").
The other word is Anglo-French fee, from Old French fieu, a variant of fief "possession, holding, domain; feudal duties, payment" (see fief), which apparently is a Germanic compound in which the first element is cognate with Old English feoh.
Via Anglo-French come the legal senses "estate in land or tenements held on condition of feudal homage; land, property, possession" (c. 1300). Hence fee-simple (late 14c.) "absolute ownership," as opposed to fee-tail (early 15c.) "entailed ownership," inheritance limited to some particular class of heirs (second element from Old French taillir "to cut, to limit").
The feudal sense was extended from landholdings to inheritable offices of service to a feudal lord (late 14c.; in Anglo-French late 13c.), for example forester of fe "a forester by heritable right." As these often were offices of profit, the word came to be used for "remuneration for service in office" (late 14c.), hence, "payment for (any kind of) work or services" (late 14c.). From late 14c. as "a sum paid for a privilege" (originally admission to a guild); early 15c. as "money payment or charge exacted for a licence, etc."
metallic element, 1812, Modern Latin, altered from earlier platina, from Spanish platina "platinum," diminutive of plata "silver," from Old French plate or Old Provençal plata "sheet of metal" (see plate (n.)). Related: Platiniferous.
The metal looks like silver, and the Spaniards at first thought it an inferior sort of silver, hence the name platina. It was first obtained from Spanish colonies in Mexico and Colombia, brought to Europe in 1735, and identified as an element 1741. Taken into English as platina (1750), it took its modern form (with element ending -ium) in 1812, at the time the names of elements were being regularized.
As a grayish-white color (similar to that of the metal) it is attested by 1923; especially as a shade of blond hair, it is attested by 1927 (in platinum blonde "woman with platinum-blonde hair;" Jean Harlow, famously associated with the label, starred in a popular movie of that name in 1931).
There is a blonde type to me more irresistibly lovely than all the rest of the women who come under the "preferred" classification. She is the platinum blonde. ... There are thousands of blondes with gold in their hair, and as many with red, and quite as many again with the yellow of corn, some real and sometimes corned with the aid of a well known bleaching ingredient—but the platinum blonde maintains her supremacy by her rarity. [Antoinette Donnelly, beauty advice column in New York "Daily News," Jan. 25, 1927]
As a designation for a recording that has sold at least one million copies, platinum is attested from 1960 ("The Battle of New Orleans"); in the late '50s it had been used to commemorate 3 million sales of a record (Pat Boone "Love Letters in the Sand"), and, from 1954, 25 million in total record sales (Jo Stafford, Gene Autry).
Old English hæðen "not Christian or Jewish," also as a noun, "heathen man, one of a race or nation which does not acknowledge the God of the Bible" (especially of the Danes), merged with Old Norse heiðinn (adj.) "heathen, pagan," from Proto-Germanic *haithana- (source also of Old Saxon hedhin, Old Frisian hethen, Dutch heiden, Old High German heidan, German Heiden), which is of uncertain origin.
Perhaps literally "dweller on the heath, one inhabiting uncultivated land;" see heath + -en (2). Historically assumed to be ultimately from Gothic haiþno "gentile, heathen woman," used by Ulfilas in the first translation of the Bible into a Germanic language (as in Mark vii.26, for "Greek"); like other basic words for exclusively Christian ideas (such as church) it likely would have come first into Gothic and then spread to other Germanic languages. If so it could be a noun use of an unrelated Gothic adjective (compare Gothic haiþi "dwelling on the heath," but a religious sense is not recorded for this).
Whether native or Gothic, it might have been chosen on model of Latin paganus, with its root sense of "rural" (see pagan), but that word appears relatively late in the religious sense. Or the Germanic word might have been chosen for its resemblance to Greek ethne (see gentile), or it may be a literal borrowing of that Greek word, perhaps via Armenian hethanos [Sophus Bugge]. Boutkan (2005) presents another theory:
It is most probable that the Gmc. word *haiþana- referred to a person living on the heath, i.e. on common land, i.e. a person of one's own community. It would then be a neutral word used by heathen people in order to refer to each other rather than a Christian, negative word denoting non-Christians.
c. 1300, in chess, "a call noting one's move has placed his opponent's king (or another major piece) in immediate peril," from Old French eschequier "a check at chess" (also "chess board, chess set"), from eschec "the game of chess; chessboard; check; checkmate," from Vulgar Latin *scaccus, from Arabic shah, from Persian shah "king," the principal piece in a chess game (see shah; also compare checkmate (n.)). Also c. 1300 in a generalized sense, "harmful incident or event, hostile environment."
As "an exposure of the king to a direct attack from an opposing piece" early 15c. When his king is in check, a player's choices are severely limited. From that notion come the many extended senses: From the notion of "a sudden stoppage, hindrance, restraint" (1510s) comes that of "act or means of checking or restraining," also "means of detecting or exposing or preventing error; a check against forgery or alteration."
Hence: "a counter-register as a token of ownership used to check against, and prevent, loss or theft" (as in hat check, etc.), 1812. Hence also the financial use for "written order for money drawn on a bank, money draft" (1798, often spelled cheque), which was probably influenced by exchequer. Hence also "mark put against names or items on a list indicating they have been verified or otherwise examined" (by 1856).
From its use in chess the word has been widely transferred in French and English. In the sense-extension, the sb. and vb. have acted and reacted on each other, so that it is difficult to trace and exhibit the order in which special senses arose [OED]
The meaning "restaurant bill" is from 1869. Checking account is attested from 1897, American English. Blank check in the figurative sense is attested by 1849 (compare carte blanche). Checks and balances is from 1782, perhaps originally suggesting machinery.
"a Conceit arising from the use of two Words that agree in the Sound, but differ in the Sense" [Addison]; "An expression in which the use of a word in two different applications, or the use of two different words pronounced alike or nearly alike, presents an odd or ludicrous idea" [Century Dictionary]; 1660s (first attested in Dryden), a word of uncertain origin.
Perhaps from pundigron, meaning the same thing (though attested first a few years later), itself a word of uncertain etymology, perhaps a humorous alteration of Italian puntiglio "equivocation, trivial objection," diminutive of Latin punctum "point." This is pure speculation. Punnet was another early form.
Pun was prob. one of the clipped words, such as cit, mob, nob, snob, which came into fashionable slang at or after the Restoration. [OED]
The verb, "to make puns," also is attested from 1660s, first in Dryden. Related: Punned; punning.
At the revival of learning, and the spread of what we may term the refinement of society, punning was one of the few accomplishments at which the fine ladies and gentlemen aimed. From the twelfth to the sixteenth century, it was at its greatest height. The conversation of the witty gallants, and ladies, and even of the clowns and other inferior characters, in the comedies of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, which we may be sure was painted from the life, is full of puns and plays upon words. The unavoidable result of such an excess was a surfeit, and the consequent dégout, which lasted for more than a century. Like other diseases, it broke out again subsequently with redoubled virulence, and made great havoc in the reign of Queen Anne. [Larwood & Hotten, "The History of Signboards from the Earliest Times to the Present Day," London, 1867]
mid-14c., pencel, "an artist's small, fine brush of camel hair," used for painting, manuscript illustration, etc., from Old French pincel "artist's paintbrush" (13c., Modern French pinceau) and directly from Medieval Latin pincellus, from Latin penicillus "painter's brush, hair-pencil," literally "little tail," diminutive of peniculus "brush," itself a diminutive of penis "tail" (see penis).
Small brushes formerly were used for writing before modern lead or chalk pencils. Sticks of pure graphite (commonly known as black lead) were used for marking things in England from the mid-16c., and the wooden enclosure for them was developed in the same century on the Continent. This seems to have been the time the word pencil was transferred from a type of brush to "graphite writing implement." The modern clay-graphite mix was developed early 19c., and pencils of this sort were mass-produced from mid-19c. Hymen L. Lipman of Philadelphia obtained a patent for the pencil with an attached eraser in 1858.
Derogatory slang pencil-pusher "office worker" is from 1881 (pen-driver, jocular for "clerk, writer," is from 1820); pencil neck "weak person" first recorded 1973. Pencil-sharpener as a mechanical device for putting the point on a lead pencil is by 1854.
And here is a new and serviceable invention—a pencil sharpener. It is just the thing to carry in the pocket, being no larger than a lady's thimble. It sharpens a lead pencil neatly and splendidly, by means of a small blade fitted in a cap, which is turned upon the end of a pencil. A patent has been applied for. Made by Mr. W. K. Foster, of Bangor. ["The Portland Transcript," Portland, Maine, Sept. 30, 1854]
early 15c., "a playing card," from Old French carte (14c.), from Medieval Latin carta/charta "a card, paper; a writing, a charter," from Latin charta "leaf of paper, a writing, tablet," from Greek khartēs "layer of papyrus," which is probably from Egyptian. The form has been influenced by Italian cognate carta "paper, leaf of paper." Compare chart (n.). The shift in English from -t to -d is unexplained.
The sense of "playing cards" also is the oldest of the French word. The sense in English was extended by 1590s to similar small, flat, stiff pieces of paper. As "small piece of cardboard upon which is written or printed the name, address, etc. of the person presenting it," from 1795: visiting-cards for social calls, business-cards announcing one's profession. The meaning "printed ornamental greetings for special occasions" is from 1862.
Application to clever or original persons (1836, originally with an adjective, as in smart card) is from the playing-card sense, via expressions such as sure card "an expedient certain to attain an object" (c. 1560).
Card-sharper "professional cheat at cards" is from 1859. House of cards in the figurative sense "any insecure or flimsy scheme" is from 1640s, first attested in Milton, from children's play. To (figuratively) have a card up (one's) sleeve is from 1898. To play the _______ card (for political advantage) is from 1886, originally the Orange card, meaning "appeal to Northern Irish Protestant sentiment."
Cards are first mentioned in Spain in 1371, described in detail in Switzerland in 1377, and by 1380 reliably reported from places as far apart as Florence, Basle, Regensburg, Brabant, Paris, and Barcelona. References are also claimed for earlier dates, but these are relatively sparse and do not withstand scrutiny. [David Parlett, "A History of Card Games"]
"the female of the domestic fowl," Old English henn "hen," from West Germanic *hannjo (source also of Old Frisian henn, Middle Dutch henne, Old High German henna), fem. of *hanan- "male fowl, cock" (source of Old English hana "cock"), literally "bird who sings (for sunrise)," from PIE root *kan- "to sing."
The original masculine word survives in German (Hahn "cock"), Swedish, Danish, etc. German also has a generic form, Huhn, for either gender of the bird. Extension to "female of any bird species" is early 14c. in English.
Hen as slang for "woman" dates from 1620s; hence hen party "gathering of women," first recorded 1887. To be mad as a wet hen is from 1823, but the figure was used to indicate other states: As wanton as a wet hen is in "Scots Proverbs" (1813). Among Middle English proverbial expressions was nice as a nonne hen "over-refined, fastidiously wanton" (c. 1500); to singen so hen in snowe "sing miserably," literally "sing like a hen in snow" (c. 1200). The figure of the hen with one chick dates to 1590s. Hen's teeth as a figure of scarceness is attested by 1838.
Some, on the contrary, are viciously opposite to these, who act so tamely and so coldly, that when they ought to be angry, to thunder and lighten, as one may say, they are no fuller of Heat, than a wet Hen, as the Saying is; .... ["Life of Mr. Thomas Betterton," London, 1710]
Orth. Out upon you for a dastardly Fellow; you han't the Courage of a wet Hen. ["A Sermon Preached at St. Mary-le-Bow, March 27, 1704"]