c. 1600, "peculiar person, person of a type seldom encountered," from Latin rara avis, literally "strange bird," from rara, fem. of rarus "rare" (see rare (adj.1)) + avis "bird" (see aviary). Latin plural is raræ aves. A phrase used of Horace's peacock (a Roman delicacy), Juvenal's black swan ("Rara avis in terris, nigroque simillima cygno"). A figure perhaps natural to the superstitious Romans, who divined by bird-watching.
Meaning "kind, affectionate, loving" first recorded early 14c. Meaning "having the delicacy of youth, immature" is attested in English from early 14c. Related: Tenderly; tenderness. Tender-hearted first recorded 1530s.
late 14c., mincen, "to chop (meat, herbs, onions, etc.) in little pieces," from Old French mincier "make into small pieces," from Vulgar Latin *minutiare "make small," from Late Latin minutiæ "small bits," from Latin minutus "small" (from PIE root *mei- (2) "small").
From 1540s in reference to speech, "to utter primly or in a half-spoken way as affected delicacy, clip affectedly in imitation of elegance," of words or language, "to restrain in the interest of decorum," 1590s. The meaning "walk with short or precise steps or with affected nicety" is from 1560s. The etymological sense is "to make less, make small." Related: Minced; mincing.
I have retain'd the word BREECHES, as they are known by no other name amongst country folk.--The change from vulgarity to refinement, in cities and towns, has introduced other appellations; there they are generally called SMALL CLOTHES, but some ladies of high rank and extreme delicacy call them INEXPRESSIBLES. [footnote in "Poems Miscellaneous and Humorous," by Edward Nairne, Canterbury, 1791]
Inexpressibles is the earliest recorded and thus seems to have begotten the trend: Unmentionables (1806); indispensibles (1820); ineffables (1823); unutterables (1826); innominables (1827); and inexplicables (1829) followed.
c. 1300, deinte, "delightful, pleasing" (late 12c. as a surname), from dainty (n.); see below. Meaning evolved in Middle English to "choice, excellent" (late 14c.) to "delicately pretty, exhibiting exquisite taste or skill" (c. 1400). Sense of "fastidious, affectedly fine, weak, effeminate" is from 1570s. Related: Daintiness.
The noun is Middle English deinte "regard, affection" (mid-13c.), from c. 1300 as "excellence, elegance;" also "a luxury, a precious thing, fine food or drink;" from Anglo-French deinte, Old French deintie (12c.) "price, value," also "delicacy, pleasure," from Latin dignitatem (nominative dignitas) "greatness, rank, worthiness, worth, beauty," from dignus "worthy, proper, fitting," from PIE *dek-no-, from root *dek- "to take, accept."
c. 1300, "sexual intercourse;" mid-14c., "lasciviousness, sinful self-indulgence;" late 14c., "sensual pleasure," from Old French luxurie "debauchery, dissoluteness, lust" (12c., Modern French luxure), from Latin luxuria "excess, extravagant living, profusion; delicacy" (source also of Spanish lujuria, Italian lussuria), from luxus "excess, extravagance; magnificence," probably a figurative use of luxus (adj.) "dislocated," which is related to luctari "wrestle, strain" (see reluctance).
The English word lost its pejorative taint 17c. Meaning "habit of indulgence in what is choice or costly" is from 1630s; that of "sumptuous surroundings" is from 1704; that of "something choice or comfortable beyond life's necessities" is from 1780. Used as an adjective from 1916.
In Lat. and in the Rom. langs. the word connotes vicious indulgence, the neutral sense of the Eng. 'luxury' being expressed by L. luxus, F. luxe, Sp. lujo, It. lusso. [OED]
1530s, "freedom from exaggeration, self-control," from French modestie or directly from Latin modestia "moderation, sense of honor, correctness of conduct," from modestus "moderate, keeping due measure, sober, gentle, temperate," from modus "measure, manner" (from PIE root *med- "take appropriate measures"). Meaning "quality of having a moderate opinion of oneself, retiring demeanor, disinclination to presumption, unobtrusiveness" is from 1550s; that of "womanly propriety, purity or delicacy of thought or manner" is from 1560s.
In euery of these thinges and their semblable is Modestie; whiche worde nat beinge knowen in the englisshe tonge, ne of al them which under stode latin, except they had radde good autours, they improprely named this vertue discretion. [Sir Thomas Elyot, "The Boke Named The Gouernour," 1531]
La pudeur donne des plaisirs bien flatteurs à l'amant: elle lui fait sentir quelles lois l'on transgresse pour lui;(Modesty both pleases and flatters a lover, for it lays stress on the laws which are being transgressed for his sake.) [Stendhal "de l'Amour," 1822]
The pride which masks as modesty is the most perverse of all. [Marcus Aurelius]
"salted and peppered raw egg, drunk in booze or vinegar," by 1878, American English, from prairie + oyster (in reference to the taste or the method of consuming it). Also called prairie-cocktail (1889). Prairie-oyster as "fried calf testicle," considered a delicacy, is by 1941.
PRAIRIE OYSTER. This simple but very nutritious drink may be taken by any person of the most delicate digestion, and has become one of the most popular delicacies since its introduction by me at Messrs. Spiers and Pond's. Its mode of preparation is very simple. Into a wine glass pat a new-laid egg ; add half a tea-spoonful of vinegar, dropping it gently down on the inside of the glass ; then drop on the yolk a little common salt, sufficient not to quite cover half the size of a threepenny-piece; pepper according to taste, The way to take this should be by placing the glass with the vinegar furthest from the mouth and swallow the contents. The vinegar being the last gives it more of an oyster-like flavour. [Leo Engel, "American & Other Drinks," London, 1878]
Middle English pratie "cunning, crafty, clever" (c. 1300 as a surname), from Old English prættig (West Saxon), pretti (Kentish), *prettig (Mercian) "cunning, skillful, artful, wily, astute," from prætt, *prett "a trick, wile, craft," from Proto-Germanic *pratt- (source also of Old Norse prettr "a trick," prettugr "tricky;" Frisian pret, Middle Dutch perte, Dutch pret "trick, joke," Dutch prettig "sportive, funny," Flemish pertig "brisk, clever"), a word of unknown origin.
The connection between the Old English and Middle English words "has several points of obscurity" [OED], and except in surnames there is no record of it 13c.-14c., but they generally are considered the same. The meaning had expanded by c. 1400 to "manly, gallant," also "ingeniously or cleverly made," to "fine, pleasing to the aesthetic sense," to "beautiful in a slight way" (mid-15c.). Also used of bees (c. 1400). For sense evolution, compare nice, silly, neat (adj.), fair (adj.).
Pretty applies to that which has symmetry and delicacy, a diminutive beauty, without the higher qualities of gracefulness, dignity, feeling, purpose, etc. A thing not small of its kind may be called pretty if it is of little dignity or consequence: as a pretty dress or shade of color; but pretty is not used of men or their belongings, except in contempt. [Century Dictionary, 1897]
Of things, "fine, pleasing" 1560s. Ironical use is from 1530s (compare ironical use of fine (adj.)). The meaning "not a few, considerable, moderately large in quantity, number, extent, or duration" is from late 15c. Pretty please as an emphatic plea is attested from 1902. A pretty penny "lot of money" is recorded from 1703.
c. 1300, fairie, "the country or home of supernatural or legendary creatures; fairyland," also "something incredible or fictitious," from Old French faerie "land of fairies, meeting of fairies; enchantment, magic, witchcraft, sorcery" (12c.), from fae "fay," from Latin fata "the Fates," plural of fatum "that which is ordained; destiny, fate," from PIE root *bha- (2) "to speak, tell, say." Also compare fate (n.), also fay.
In ordinary use an elf differs from a fairy only in generally seeming young, and being more often mischievous. [Century Dictionary]
But that was before Tolkien. As a type of supernatural being from late 14c. [contra Tolkien; for example "This maketh that ther been no fairyes" in "Wife of Bath's Tale"], perhaps via intermediate forms such as fairie knight "supernatural or legendary knight" (c. 1300), as in Spenser, where faeries are heroic and human-sized. As a name for the diminutive winged beings in children's stories from early 17c.
Yet I suspect that this flower-and-butterfly minuteness was also a product of "rationalization," which transformed the glamour of Elfland into mere finesse, and invisibility into a fragility that could hide in a cowslip or shrink behind a blade of grass. It seems to become fashionable soon after the great voyages had begun to make the world seem too narrow to hold both men and elves; when the magic land of Hy Breasail in the West had become the mere Brazils, the land of red-dye-wood. [J.R.R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories," 1947]
Hence, figurative adjective use in reference to lightness, fineness, delicacy. Slang meaning "effeminate male homosexual" is recorded by 1895. Fairy ring, of certain fungi in grass fields (as we would explain it now), is from 1590s. Fairy godmother attested from 1820. Fossil Cretaceous sea urchins found on the English downlands were called fairy loaves, and a book from 1787 reports that "country people" in England called the stones of the old Roman roads fairy pavements.