"not high, below the usual level," late 13c., earlier lah (late 12c.), "not rising much, being near the base or ground" (of objects or persons), also "lying on the ground or in a deep place" (late 13c.). This is not found in Old English, so the word is probably from Old Norse lagr "low, low-down, short; humble," or a similar Scandinavian source (compare Swedish låg, Danish lav), from Proto-Germanic *lega- "lying flat, low" (source also of Old Frisian lech, Middle Dutch lage, Dutch laag "low," dialectal German läge "flat"), from PIE root *legh- "to lie down, lay."
In reference to sounds, "not loud," also "having a deep pitch," from c. 1300. Meaning "humble in rank" is from c. 1200; "undignified, not high in character" is from 1550s; meaning "coarse, vulgar" is from 1759. Sense of "dejected, dispirited" is attested from 1737. Of prices, from c. 1400. In geographical usage, low refers to the part of a country near the sea-shore (c. 1300), as in Low Countries "Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg" (1540s). Low German languages (1845) are so called for being spoken in the lower elevations of old Germany.
Abject, low, and mean may have essentially the same meaning, but low is more often used with respect to nature, condition, or rank: mean, to character or conduct: abject, to spirit. [Century Dictionary, 1897]
Low blow in the figurative sense (1940s) is from pugilism. To lie low is from mid-13c. as "get down so as not to be seen," 1880 in the modern slang sense "keep quiet." Low Church in 18c. English history referred to Anglicans laying little stress on church authority (1702); in 19c. it meant evangelical Anglicans.
"companion, comrade," c. 1200, from Old English feolaga "partner, one who shares with another," from Old Norse felagi, from fe "money" (see fee) + lag, from Proto-Germanic *lagam, from PIE root *legh- "to lie down, lay." The etymological sense of fellow seems to be "one who puts down money with another in a joint venture."
Meaning "one of the same kind" is from early 13c.; that of "one of a pair" is from c. 1300. Used familiarly since mid-15c. for "any man, male person," but not etymologically masculine (it is used of women, for example, in Judges xi.37 in the King James version: "And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows").
Its use can be contemptuous or dignified in English and American English, and at different times in its history, depending on who used it to whom, it has carried a tinge of condescension or insult.
University senses (mid-15c., corresponding to Latin socius) evolved from notion of "one of the corporation who constitute a college" and who are paid from its revenues. Fellow well-met "boon companion" is from 1580s, hence hail-fellow-well-met as a figurative phrase for "on intimate terms."
In compounds, with a sense of "co-, joint-," from 16c., and by 19c. also denoting "association with another." Hence fellow-traveler, 1610s in a literal sense but in 20c. with a specific extended sense of "one who sympathizes with the Communist movement but is not a party member" (1936, translating Russian poputchik).
Fellow-countrymen formerly was one of the phrases the British held up to mock the Americans for their ignorance, as it is redundant to say both, until they discovered it dates from the 1580s and was used by Byron and others.
Old English lagu (plural laga, combining form lah-) "ordinance, rule prescribed by authority, regulation; district governed by the same laws;" also sometimes "right, legal privilege," from Old Norse *lagu "law," collective plural of lag "layer, measure, stroke," literally "something laid down, that which is fixed or set."
Rare in Old English, it ousted the more usual ae and also gesetnes, which also were etymologically "something placed or set."
In physics, "a proposition which expresses the regular order of things," from 1660s. Law and order have been coupled since 1796. To lay down the law (1752) is pleonastic (the "law" in the figure is biblical law, laid down from the pulpit). Poor laws provided for the support of paupers at public expense; sumptuary laws restrained excesses in apparel, food, or luxuries.
It is more common for Indo-European languages to use different words for "a specific law" and for "law" in the general sense of "institution or body of laws," for example Latin lex "a law," ius "a right," especially "legal right, law."
Indo-European words for "a law" are most commonly from verbs for "to put, place, set, lay," such as Greek thesmos (from tithemi "to put, place"), Old English dom (from PIE *dhe- "to put, place, set"), Lithuanian įstatymas (from statyti "cause to stand, set up, establish"), Polish ustawa (from stać "stand"). Also compare Old English gesetnes (above), statute, from Latin statuere; German Gesetz "a law, statute," from Old High German gisatzida "a fixing, determination, assessment," with sezzen (modern German setzen) "to make sit, set, put."
Words for "law" in the general sense mostly mean etymologically "what is right" and often are connected with adjectives for "right" (themselves often figurative uses of words for "straight," "upright," "true," "fitting," or "usage, custom." Such are Greek nomos (as in numismatic); French droit, Spanish derecho, from Latin directus; Polish prawo, Russian pravo (from Old Church Slavonic pravŭ "straight," in the daughter languages "right"); also Old Norse rettr, Old English riht, Dutch recht, German Recht (see right (adj.1)).
[L]earn to obey good laws before you seek to alter bad ones [Ruskin, "Fors Clavigera"]