1580s, "pierce through, impale," from French transfixer (15c.), from Latin transfixus "impaled," past participle of transfigere "to impale, pierce through," from trans "across, beyond; through" (see trans-) + figere "to fix, fasten" (from PIE root *dheigw- "to stick, fix"). Figurative sense of "make motionless or helpless, as with amazement, terror, or grief" is first recorded 1640s. Related: Transfixed; transfixing.
"cylindrical vessel or cask, generally bulging in the middle and made of wooden staves bound by hoops," c. 1300, from Old French baril "barrel, cask, vat" (12c.), with cognates in all Romance languages (Italian barile, Spanish barril, etc.), but of unknown origin. Also a measure of capacity of varying quantity. Meaning "metal tube of a gun" is from 1640s. Barrel-roll (n.) in aeronautics is from 1920. To be over a barrel figuratively, "in a helpless or vulnerable condition," is by 1914 and might suggest corporal punishment.
mid-14c., in chess, said of a king when it is in check and cannot escape it, from Old French eschec mat (Modern French échec et mat), which (with Spanish jaque y mate, Italian scacco-matto) is from Arabic shah mat "the king died" (see check (n.1)), which according to Barnhart is a misinterpretation of Persian mat "be astonished" as mata "to die," mat "he is dead." Hence Persian shah mat, if it is the ultimate source of the word, would be literally "the king is left helpless, the king is stumped."
Old English ofercuman "to reach, overtake, move or pass over," also "to conquer, prevail over, defeat in combat" (the Devil, evil spirits, sin, temptation, etc.), from ofer (see over) + cuman "to come" (see come (v.)). A common Germanic compound (Middle Dutch overkomen, Old High German ubarqueman, German überkommen).
In reference to mental or chemical force, "to overwhelm, render helpless," it is in late Old English. Meaning "to surmount (a difficulty or obstacle); succeed, be successful" is from c. 1200. The Civil Rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" was put together c. 1950s from the lyrics of Charles Tindley's spiritual "I'll Overcome Some Day" (1901) and the melody from the pre-Civil War spiritual "No More Auction Block for Me." Related: Overcame; overcoming.
university town in England, Middle English Oxforde, from Old English Oxnaforda (10c.) literally "where the oxen ford" (see ox + ford (n.)). In reference to a type of shoe laced over the instep, it is attested from 1721 (Oxford-cut shoes). In reference to an accent supposedly characteristic of members of the university, by 1855. Related: Oxfordian; Oxfordish; Oxfordist; Oxfordy.
Oxford comma for "serial comma" (the second in A, B, and C) is attested by 1990s, from its being used by Oxford University Press or its recommendation by Henry W. Fowler, long associated with Oxford University, in his influential and authoritative book on English usage (1926) in which he writes "there is no agreement at present on the punctuation," but adds that the omission of the serial comma "often leaves readers helpless against ambiguity."
late 12c., "God's forgiveness of his creatures' offenses," from Old French mercit, merci (9c.) "reward, gift; kindness, grace, pity," from Latin mercedem (nominative merces) "reward, wages, pay, hire" (in Vulgar Latin "favor, pity;" in Medieval Latin "thanks; grace"), from merx (genitive mercis) "wares, merchandise" (see market (n.)). In Church Latin (6c.) it was given a specific application to the heavenly reward earned by those who show kindness to the helpless and those from whom no requital can be expected.
Meaning "disposition to forgive or show compassion" is attested from early 13c. Sense of "an act or exercise of forbearance or good will" is from c. 1300. As an interjection, attested from mid-13c. (short for may God have mercy, have mercy on me, etc.). Many of the English senses are found earlier in French, but in French the word largely has been superseded by miséricorde except as a word of thanks. Sense of "discretionary action" (as in at (one's) mercy) is from mid-14c. Seat of mercy "golden covering of the Ark of the Covenant" (1530), hence "the throne of God," is Tyndale's loan-translation of Luther's gnadenstuhl, an inexact translation of Latin propitiatorium, ultimately a rendering of Hebrew kapporeth, literally "propitiatory."