Meaning extended by early confusion with obsolete bouk "belly" (from Old English buc "body, belly," from Proto-Germanic *bukaz; see bucket), which led to sense of "size, volume, magnitude of material substance," attested from mid-15c. In bulk 1670s, "loaded loose." Meaning "the greater part" (of anything) is by 1711.
1889 as an abbreviation of British Thermal Unit (1862), a commercial unit of electrical energy (the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit); the French Thermal Unit is the amount of heat required to raise 1 kilogram of water 1 degree centigrade. Also from 1889 as an abbreviation of Board of Trade Unit, in electicity "1,000 watt hours."
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.
1610s, "unity, arithmetical unit," 1610s, from Late Latin monas (genitive monadis), from Greek monas "unit," from monos "alone" (from PIE root *men- (4) "small, isolated"). In Leibnitz's philosophy, "an ultimate unit of being, a unit of the universal substance" (1748); he apparently adopted the word from Giordano Bruno's 16c. metaphysics, where it referred to a hypothetical primary indivisible substance at once material and spiritual. Related: Monadic; monadism.