1807; see pea + nut. Earlier, and still commonly in England, ground nut, ground pea (1769). The plant is native to South America; Portuguese traders took peanuts from Brazil and Peru to Africa by 1502 and it is known to have been cultivated in Chekiang Province in China by 1573, probably arriving with Portuguese sailors who made stops in Brazil en route to the Orient.
Peanut butter is attested by 1892; peanut brittle "hard toffee with peanuts roasted in it" is from 1894. Peanut gallery "topmost (and cheapest) rows of a theater" is from 1874, American English, from the peanuts sold as inexpensive snacks; peanuts "trivial sum" is from 1934; peanut for "small or unimportant person" is by 1942. The Peanuts newspaper comic strip by U.S. cartoonist Charles M. Schulz (1922-2000) debuted under that name on Oct. 2, 1950.
Old English þymel "sheath or covering for the thumb," from thuma (see thumb (n.)) + instrumental suffix -el (1), used in forming names of tools (compare handle (n.)). The unetymological -b- appears mid-15c. (compare humble, nimble, etc.). Originally of leather, metal ones came into use 17c. Related: Thimbleful. Thimblerig, con game played with three thimbles and a pea or button, is attested from 1825 by this name, though references to thimble cheats, probably the same swindle, date back to 1716 (see rig (v.)).
early 15c., "eccentric circle or orbit," originally a term in Ptolemaic astronomy, "circle or orbit not having the Earth precisely at its center," from French eccentrique and directly from Medieval Latin eccentricus (noun and adjective), from Greek ekkentros "out of the center" (as opposed to concentric), from ek "out" (see ex-) + kentron "center" (see center (n.)). Meaning "odd or whimsical person" is attested by 1817 (S.W. Ryley, "The Itinerant, or Memoirs of an Actor").
June 4 .—Died in the streets in Newcastle, William Barron, an eccentric, well known for many years by the name of Billy Pea-pudding. [John Sykes, "Local Records, or Historical Register of Remarkable Events which have Occurred Exclusively in the Counties of Durham and Northumberland, Town and County of Newcastle Upon Tyne, and Berwick Upon Tweed," Newcastle, 1824]
"low-growing bush, a woody plant with stems branched from or near the ground," Middle English shrubbe, from Old English scrybb "brushwood, shrubbery," a rare and late word (but preserved also, perhaps, in Shrewsbury), possibly from a Scandinavian source (compare dialectal Danish skrub "brushwood," Norwegian skrubba "dwarf tree"). OED says it is presumably related to North Frisian skrobb "broom plant, brushwood;" West Flemish schrobbe "climbing wild pea," with a base notion of "rough plant." Watkins has this as ultimately from PIE *(s)kerb-, an extended form of root *sker- (1) "to cut."
The line which divides trees from shrubs is to a large extent arbitrary, and is often very unsatisfactory in application, but in general the name shrub may be applied to a woody plant of less size than a tree, with several permanent woody stems dividing from the bottom, more slender and lower than in a tree. [Century Dictionary]
also cat-bird, 1731, common name for the North American thrush (Dumetella Carolinensis), related to the mockingbird, so called from its warning cry, which resembles the meowling of a cat; from cat (n.) + bird (n.1). "Its proper song is voluble, varied, and highly musical" [Century Dictionary].
Catbird seat is a late 19c. Dixieism, popularized by Brooklyn Dodgers baseball announcer Walter "Red" Barber (1908-1992) and by author James Thurber:
"She must be a Dodger fan," he had said. "Red Barber announces the Dodger games over the radio and he uses those expressions—picked 'em up down South." Joey had gone on to explain one or two. "Tearing up the pea patch" meant going on a rampage; "sitting in the catbird seat" means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him. [Thurber, "The Catbird Seat," The New Yorker, Nov. 14, 1942]
pulpy drupe of a well-known type of tree, c. 1300, earlier in surname Chyrimuth (1266, literally "Cherry-mouth"); from Anglo-French cherise, from Old North French cherise (Old French, Modern French cerise, 12c.), from Vulgar Latin *ceresia, from late Greek kerasian "cherry," from Greek kerasos "cherry tree," possibly from a language of Asia Minor. Mistaken in Middle English for a plural and stripped of its -s (compare pea).
Old English had ciris "cherry" from a West Germanic borrowing of the Vulgar Latin word (cognate with German Kirsch), but it died out after the Norman invasion and was replaced by the French word. Short for cherry-tree from 1620s. As an adjective, "of the color of a cherry," mid-15c.
Meaning "maidenhead, virginity" is by 1928, U.S. slang, from supposed resemblance to the hymen, but perhaps also from the long-time use of cherries as a symbol of the fleeting quality of life's pleasures (and compare English underworld slang cherry "young girl," attested from 1889). Cherry-bounce, popular name of a cordial made from fermented cherries, is from 1690s.
"hard outer covering," Middle English shel, shelle, from Old English sciell, scill, Anglian scell "seashell; eggshell," which is related to Old English scealu "shell, husk," from Proto-Germanic *skaljo "piece cut off; shell; scale" (source also of West Frisian skyl "peel, rind," Middle Low German schelle "pod, rind, egg shell," Gothic skalja "tile"), with the shared notion of "covering that splits off," from PIE root *skel- (1) "to cut." Italian scaglia "chip" is from Germanic.
Also in late Old English as "a coating or layer." The general sense of "protective outer covering of some invertebrates" is in Middle English (by c. 1400 as "house of a snail;" by 1540s in reference to a tortoise or turtle); the meaning "outer layer of a nut" (or a fruit considered as a nut) is by mid-14c. With notion of "mere exterior," hence "empty or hollow thing" by 1650s. The meaning "hollow framework" is from 1791; that of "structure for a band or orchestra" is attested from 1938. To be out of (one's) shell "emerged into life" is by 1550s.
Military use for "explosive projectile" is by 1640s, first of hand grenades, and originally in reference to the metal case in which the gunpowder and shot were mixed; the notion is of a "hollow object" filled with explosives. Hence shell shock, "traumatic reaction to the stress of battle," recorded by 1915.
Shell game "a swindle" is from 1890, from a version of the three-card game played with a pea and walnut shells.
Old English bean "bean, pea, legume," from Proto-Germanic *bauno (source also of Old Norse baun, Middle Dutch bone, Dutch boon, Old High German bona, German Bohne), and related to Latin faba "bean;" Greek phakos "lentil;" Albanian bathë "horse-bean;" Old Prussian babo, Russian bob "bean," but the original form is obscure. Watkins suggests a PIE reduplicated root *bha-bhā- "broad bean;" de Vaan writes that the Italic, Slavic and Germanic "are probably independent loanwords from a European substratum word of the form *bab- (or similar) 'bean'."
As a metaphor for "something of small value" it is attested from c. 1300 (hill of beans as something not much to amount to is from 1863). The meaning "head" is U.S. baseball slang 1905 (in bean-ball "a pitch thrown at the head"); thus slang verb bean meaning "to hit on the head," attested from 1910. Bean-shooter as a child's weapon for mischief, a sort of small sling-shot to fire beans, is attested from 1876. Derisive slang bean-counter "accountant" is recorded by 1971.
The notion of lucky or magic beans in English folklore is from the exotic beans or large seeds, carried from the Caribbean or South America by the Gulf Stream, that wash up occasionally in Cornwall and western Scotland. They were cherished, believed to ward off the evil eye and aid in childbirth.
To not know beans "be ignorant" is attested by 1842 in American English, often said to be a New England phrase; it is perhaps from the "object of little worth" sense. Some of the earliest citations give it in a fuller form, but they do not agree: "why, I sometimes think they don't know beans when the bag is open" ["The History of the Saints," 1842]; "This feller don't know beans from porridge, no how." ["Etchings of a Whaling Cruise," 1850]. It might have a connection to the English colloquial expression know how many beans make five "be a clever fellow" (1824).