"distance between two objects," from Old English span "distance between the thumb and little finger of an extended hand" (as a measure of length, roughly nine inches), probably related to Middle Dutch spannen "to join, fasten," from Proto-Germanic *spannan, from PIE root *(s)pen- "to draw, stretch, spin."
The Germanic word was borrowed into Medieval Latin as spannus, hence Italian spanna, Old French espan "hand's width, span as a unit of measure," French empan. As a measure of volume (early 14c.), "what can be held in two cupped hands." Meaning "length of time" first attested 1590s; that of "space between abutments of an arch, etc." is from 1725. Meaning "maximum lateral dimension of an aircraft" is first recorded 1909.
unit of linear measure in Great Britain, the U.S., and a few other countries, formerly used in most European countries before the metric system; Old English mil, from West Germanic *milja (source also of Middle Dutch mile, Dutch mijl, Old High German mila, German Meile), from Latin milia "thousands," plural of mille "a thousand" (neuter plural was mistaken in Germanic as a fem. singular), which is of unknown origin.
The Latin word also is the source of French mille, Italian miglio, Spanish milla. The Scandinavian words (Old Norse mila, etc.) are from English. An ancient Roman mile was 1,000 double paces (one step with each foot), for about 4,860 feet, but many local variants developed, in part in an attempt to reconcile the mile with the agricultural system of measurements. Consequently, old European miles were of various lengths. The medieval English mile was 6,610 feet; the old London mile was 5,000 feet. In Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia in the Middle Ages, the Latin word was applied arbitrarily to the ancient Germanic rasta, a measure of from 3.25 to 6 English miles. In England the ordinary mile was set by legal act at 320 perches (5,280 feet) by statute in Elizabeth's reign.
In Middle English the word also was a unit of time, "about 20 minutes," roughly what was required to walk a mile. The word has been used generically since 1580s for "a great distance." Mile-a-minute (adj.) "very fast" is attested from 1957 in railroad publications (automobiles had attained 60 mph by 1903).
Old English lengðu "property of being long or extended in one direction; distance along a line," from Proto-Germanic *langitho, abstract noun from *langaz "long" (root of Old English lang; see long (adj.)) + *-itho, abstract noun suffix (see -th (2)). Cognate with Old Norse lengd, Old Frisian lengethe, Dutch lengte.
Figurative sense of "the distance one goes, extremity to which something is carried" is from 1690s. Phrase at length "to full extent" is attested from c. 1500. As "the length of a swimming pool," 1903. From the notion of "a piece or portion of the extent of anything" come the theater slang sense "a 42-line portion of an actor's part" (1736) and the sporting sense "the length of a horse, car, etc. in a race" used as a unit of measure (1650s).
name of various silver or gold coins in use in several European countries, late 14c., from Old French ducat (late 14c.), Italian ducato (12c.), Medieval Latin ducatus "coin," originally "duchy," from dux (genitive ducis) "duke," from PIE root *deuk- "to lead."
Apparently so called for the name or effigy of Roger II of Sicily, Duke of Apulia, which first issued the coins (c. 1140). Byzantine emperor Constantine X had the Greek form doux struck on his coins during his reign (1059-1067). Over the years it was a unit of currency of varying value in Holland, Russia, Austria, Sweden, Venice, etc. It remained popular as English slang for "money" or "ticket" from its prominence in "The Merchant of Venice."
plant of the genus papaver, having showy flowers and milky juice with narcotic properties, from late Old English popig, popæg, from West Germanic *papua-, probably from Vulgar Latin *papavum, from Latin papaver "poppy," perhaps a reduplicated form of imitative root *pap- "to swell."
Associated with battlefields and war dead at least since Waterloo (1815), an association cemented by John McCrae's World War I poem, they do not typically grow well in the soil of Flanders but were said to have been noticeably abundant on the mass graves of the fallen French after 1815, no doubt nourished by the nutriments below. Poppy-seed is from early 15c.; in 17c. it also was a small unit of length (less than one-twelfth of an inch).
"moral fault, wickedness," c. 1300, from Old French vice "fault, failing, defect, irregularity, misdemeanor" (12c.), from Latin vitium "defect, offense, blemish, imperfection," in both physical and moral senses (in Medieval Latin also vicium; source also of Italian vezzo "usage, entertainment"), which is of uncertain origin.
Vice squad "special police unit targeting prostitution, narcotics, gambling, etc.," is attested from 1905, American English. Vice anglais "fetish for corporal punishment," literally "the English vice," is attested from 1942, from French. In Old French, the seven deadly sins were les set vices.
Horace and Aristotle have already spoken to us about the virtues of their forefathers and the vices of their own times, and through the centuries, authors have talked the same way. If all this were true, we would be bears today. [Montesquieu, "Pensées"]
chosen 1786 as name for U.S. 10-cent coin (originally of silver), from dime "a tenth, tithe" (late 14c.), from Old French disme (Modern French dîme) "a tenth part" and directly from Medieval Latin decima, from Latin decima (pars) "tenth (part)," from decem "ten" (from PIE root *dekm- "ten").
The verb meaning "to inform" (on someone) is from the 1960s, from the then-cost of a pay-phone call. Alliterative phrase a dime a dozen "almost worthless" is recorded by 1930 (as an actual price, for eggs, etc., by 1861). Phrase stop on a dime attested by 1927 (a dime being the physically smallest unit of U.S. currency); turn on a dime is by 1913. Dime store "retail outlet selling everything for (more or less) 10 cents" is by 1928.
"portable firearm having a barrel or barrels with a spirally grooved bore," by 1775; the word was used earlier of the grooves themselves (1751), and is a noun use from rifled pistol, 1680s, from the verb rifle meaning "to cut spiral grooves in" (a gun barrel); see rifle (v.2).
The spirals impart rotation to the projectile, making its flight more accurate. Rifles "troops armed with rifles," sometimes as part of a unit name, is by 1843. Rifle-range is from 1850 as "distance a rifle-ball will carry" (also, and earlier rifle-shot, 1803); the meaning "place for rifle shooting" is by 1862. Rifle-ball is by 1884; the word continued in use after cylindrical bullets with conical heads replaced round ones.
c. 1300, "order or direct with authority" (transitive), from Old French comander "to order, enjoin, entrust" (12c., Modern French commander), from Vulgar Latin *commandare, from Latin commendare "to recommend, entrust to" (see commend); altered by influence of Latin mandare "to commit, entrust" (see mandate (n.)). In this sense Old English had bebeodan.
Intransitive sense "act as or have authority of a commander, have or exercise supreme power" is from late 14c. Also from late 14c. as "have within the range of one's influence" (of resources, etc.), hence, via a military sense, "have a view of, overlook" in reference to elevated places (1690s). Related: Commanded; commanding.
Command-post "headquarters of a military unit" is from 1918. A command performance (1863) is one given by royal command.
unit of weight, the twelfth part of a pound, early 14c., from Old French once, unce, a measure of weight or time (12c.), from Latin uncia "one-twelfth part" (of a pound, a foot, etc.), from Latin unus "one" (from PIE root *oi-no- "one, unique"). The Latin word had been adopted in Old English as ynce (see inch).
It was one-twelfth of a pound in the Troy system of weights, but one-sixteenth in avoirdupois. Abbreviation oz. is from older Italian onza. It was used loosely from late 14c. for "a small quantity." Also used in Middle English as a measure of time (7.5 seconds) and length (about 3 inches). In figurative expressions and proverbs, an ounce of X is compared or contrasted with a pound of Y from 1520s.