"companion" (obsolete), from Middle English fere, a shortening of Old English gefera "associate, comrade, fellow-disciple; wife, man, servant," from Proto-Germanic *forjanan, from the causative of *faranan (source of Old English faran "to go, travel"), from PIE root *per- (2) "to lead, pass over." Literally "one who goes with another." Compare German Gefährte "companion," from the same root; also, from causative *forjan-, Old High German fuoren. "to lead," modern German Fuhrer.
"dullard, dolt, ignoramus," 1570s, from earlier Duns disciple, Duns man (1520s) "follower of John Duns Scotus" (c. 1265-1308), Scottish scholar of philosophy and theology supposed to have been born at Duns in Berwick. His followers, the Scotists, had control of the universities until the Reformation. By 1520s, humanist reaction against medieval theology had singled him out as the type of the hairsplitting scholastic. It became a general term of reproach applied to obstinate or sophistical philosophical opponents by 1520s, then by 1570s it was extended to any dull-witted student. Dunce's cap is attested by 1792 (compare foolscap).
mid-15c., Peripatetik, "a disciple of Aristotle, one of the set of philosophers who followed the teachings of Aristotle," from Old French perypatetique (14c.) and directly from Medieval Latin peripateticus "pertaining to the disciples or philosophy of Aristotle," from Greek peripatētikos "given to walking about" (especially while teaching), from peripatein "walk up and down, walk about," from peri "around, about" (see peri-) + patein "to walk, tread" (see find (v.)). Aristotle's custom was to teach while strolling through the Lyceum in Athens.
In English, the philosophical meaning is older than that of "person who wanders about" (1610s). As an adjective, "walking about from place to place, itinerant," from 1640s, often with a tinge of humor. Related: Peripatetical.
The modern spelling is from Scottish, where early 13c. it came to mean "chief of a clan, king's baron," and it has predominated in English probably due to the influence of "Macbeth;" normal orthographic changes from Old English ðegn would have produced Modern English *thain. Some historians now use thegn to distinguish Anglo-Saxon thanes from Scottish thanes.
Middle English folwen, from Old English folgian, fylgian, fylgan "to accompany (especially as a disciple), move in the same direction as; follow after, pursue, move behind in the same direction," also "obey (a rule or law), conform to, act in accordance with; apply oneself to (a practice, trade, or calling)," from Proto-Germanic *fulgojanan (source also of Old Saxon folgon, Old Frisian folgia, Middle Dutch volghen, Dutch volgen, Old High German folgen, German folgen, Old Norse fylgja "to follow"). Probably originally a compound, *full-gan, with a sense of "full-going," the sense then shifting to "serve, go with as an attendant" (compare fulfill). Related: Followed; following.
Sense of "accept as leader or guide, obey or be subservient to" was in late Old English. Meaning "come after in time" is from c. 1200; meaning "to result from" (as effect from cause) is from c. 1200. Meaning "to keep up with mentally, comprehend" is from 1690s. Intransitive sense "come or go behind" is from mid-13c. To follow one's nose "go straight on" first attested 1590s. "The full phrase is, 'Follow your nose, and you are sure to go straight.' " [Farmer]. The children's game follow my leader is attested by that name from 1812 (as follow the leader by 1896).