brightest star by magnitude, late 14c., from Latin Sirius "the Dog Star," from Greek Seirios, said to mean literally "scorching" or "the scorcher." But other related Greek words seem to derive from this use, and the name might be a folk-etymologized borrowing from some other language. An Egyptian name for it was Sothis. Beekes suggests it is from PIE root *twei- "to agitate, shake, toss; excite; sparkle" if the original meaning of the star-name is "sparkling, flickering."
The connection of the star with scorching heat is due to its ancient heliacal rising at the summer solstice (see dog days). Related: Sirian (1590s). The constellation Canis Major seems to have grown from the star.
Homer made much of it as [Kyōn], but his Dog doubtless was limited to the star Sirius, as among the ancients generally till, at some unknown date, the constellation was formed as we have it, — indeed till long afterwards, for we find many allusions to the Dog in which we are uncertain whether the constellation or its lucida is referred to. [Richard Hinckley Allen, Canis Major in "Star Names and Their Meanings," London: 1899]
masc. proper name, 12c., from Old English Petrus (genitive Pet(e)res, dative Pet(e)re), from Latin Petrus, from Greek Petros, literally "stone, rock" (see petrous), a translation of Syriac kefa "stone" (Latinized as Cephas), the nickname Jesus gave to apostle Simon Bar-Jona (Matthew xvi.17), historically known as St. Peter, and consequently a popular name among Christians (Italian Pietro, Spanish and Portuguese Pedro, Old French Pierres, French Pierre, etc.). As slang for "penis," attested from 1902, probably from identity of first syllable.
The common form of this very common name in medieval England was Peres (Anglo-French Piers), hence surnames Pierce, Pearson, etc. Among the diminutive forms were Parkin and Perkin.
To rob Peter to pay Paul (1510s, attested in slightly different wordings from late 14c.) might be a reference to the many churches dedicated to those two saints, and have sprung from the fairly common practice of building or enriching one church with the ruins or revenues of another. But the alliterative pairing of the two names is attested from c. 1400 with no obvious connection to the saints:
Sum medicyne is for peter þat is not good for poul, for þe diuersite of complexioun. [Lanfranc's "Chirurgia Magna," English translation, c. 1400]
early 14c., brasile, "brasilwood," name of a type of red wood from an East Indian tree, used in making dye (in modern times known as sappan-wood or Indian redwood), from Medieval Latin brasilium, Old French bresil, which probably is related to brese "embers," and like it from a Germanic source (compare braze (v.1)), from PIE root *bhreu- "to boil, bubble, effervesce, burn," and so called for resemblance of color to a glowing ember.
But as the product came to Europe via India perhaps this is a folk-etymology of some word in Arabic or another Asian language (an Old Italian form, verzino, suggests to some a possible connection with Arabic wars "saffron"). The same word for the same stuff entered Portuguese and Spanish (brasil) and Italian (brasile).
The South American country was named Santa Cruz by its "discoverer," Pedro Alvarez Cabral (1500), but within a decade on maps it began to be called terra de brasil "red-dyewood land" because it produced a valuable red dyewood similar to East Indian type, and that name predominated from 1550s.
Complicating matters is Hy Brasil, a name attested since early 14c. for a legendary island or rock in the North Atlantic off the west coast of Ireland. It is so-called perhaps from the "red dyewood" word by association with Pliny's Insulae Purpurariae ("Purple Islands") in the Atlantic off the coast of Morocco.
Scandinavian pirate, 1801, vikingr, in "The History of the Anglo-Saxons" by English historian Sharon H. Turner; he suggested the second element might be connected to king: But this later was dismissed as incorrect. The form viking is attested in 1820, in Jamieson's notes to "The Bruce."
The name by which the pirates were at first distinguished was Vikingr, which perhaps originally meant kings of the bays. It was in bays that they ambushed, to dart upon the passing voyager. [Turner]
The word is a historians' revival; it was not used in Middle English, but it was reintroduced from Old Norse vikingr "freebooter, sea-rover, pirate, viking," which usually is explained as meaning properly "one who came from the fjords," from vik "creek, inlet, small bay" (cognate with Old English wic, Middle High German wich "bay," and second element in Reykjavik).
But Old English wicing and Old Frisian wizing are almost 300 years older than the earliest attestation of the Old Norse word, and probably derive from wic "village, camp" (large temporary camps were a feature of the Viking raids), related to Latin vicus "village, habitation" (from PIE root *weik- (1) "clan").
The connection between the Norse and Old English words is still much debated. The period of Viking activity was roughly 8c. to 11c. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the raiding armies generally were referred to as þa Deniscan "the Danes," while those who settled in England were identified by their place of settlement. Old Norse viking (n.) meant "freebooting voyage, piracy;" one would "go on a viking" (fara í viking).
fem. proper name, name of the faithful wife in the "Odyssey," from Greek Pēnelopē, Pēnelopeia, which is perhaps related to pēne "thread on the bobbin," from pēnos "web," cognate with Latin pannus "cloth garment" (see pane (n.)). But Beekes suggests rather a connection with pēnelops "duck or wild goose with colored neck." Used in English as the type of the virtuous wife (1580) as it was in Latin.
Penelope, the daughter of Icarus, was a rare and perfect example of chastity. For though it was generally thought that her husband Ulysses was dead, since he had been absent from her twenty years; yet, neither the desires of her parents, nor the solicitations of her lovers, could prevail on her to marry another man, and to violate the promises of constancy which she gave to her husband when he departed. And when many noblemen courted her, and even threatened her with ruin, unless she declared which of them should marry her, she desired that the choice might be deferred till she had finished the piece of needle-work about which she was then employed: but undoing by night what she had worked by day, she delayed them till Ulysses returned and killed them all. Hence came the proverb, "To weave Penelope's web;" that is, to labour in vain; when one hand destroys what the other has wrought. [Andrew Tooke, "The Pantheon, Representing the Fabulous Histories of the Heathen Gods and Most Illustrious Heroes, in a Plain and Familiar Method," London: 1824]
eleventh Roman letter, from Greek kappa, from Phoenician kaph or a similar Semitic source, said to mean literally "hollow of the hand" and to be so called for its shape.
Little used in classical Latin, which at an early age conformed most of its words (the exceptions had ritual importance) to a spelling using -c- (a character derived from Greek gamma). In Late Latin, pronunciation of -c- shifted (in the direction of "s"). Greek names brought into Latin also were regularized with a -c- spelling, and then underwent the Late Latin sound-shift; hence the modern pronunciation of Cyrus, Circe. To keep their pronunciation clear, the many Greek words (often Church words) that entered Latin after this shift tended to take Latin -k- for Greek kappa.
K- thus became a supplementary letter to -c- in Medieval Latin, used with Greek and foreign words. But most of the languages descended from Latin had little need of it, having evolved other solutions to the sound shifts.
K- also was scarce in Old English. After the Norman conquest, new scribal habits restricted -c- and expanded the use of -k-, which began to be common in English spelling from 13c. This probably was done because the sound value of -c- was evolving in French and the other letter was available to clearly mark the "k" sound for scribes working in English. For more, see C.
In words transliterated from Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Japanese, Hawaiian, etc., it represents several different sounds lumped. In modern use some of them are now with kh-; in older borrowings they often followed traditional English spelling and were written with a C- (Corea, Caaba, etc.).
As a symbol for potassium, it represents Latin kalium "potash." In CMYK as a color system for commercial printing it means "black" but seems to stand for key in a specialized printing sense. Slang meaning "one thousand dollars" is 1970s, from kilo-. K as a measure of capacity (especially in computer memory) meaning "one thousand" also is an abbreviation of kilo-.
As an indication of "strikeout" in baseball score-keeping it dates from 1874 and is said to represent the last letter of struck. The invention of the scorecard symbols is attributed to English-born U.S. newspaperman Henry Chadwick (1824-1908) principally of the old New York "Clipper," who had been writing baseball since 1858, and who explained it thus:
Smith was the first striker, and went out on three strikes, which is recorded by the figure "1" for the first out, and the letter K to indicate how put out, K being the last letter of the word "struck." The letter K is used in this instance as being easier to remember in connection with the word struck than S, the first letter, would be. [Henry Chadwick, "Chadwick's Base Ball Manual," London, 1874]