"very liberal in giving or bestowing," 1580s, back-formation from munificence, or else from Latin munificent-, stem of munificus "bountiful, liberal, generous," literally "present-making," from munus "gift or service; function, task, duty, office" (see municipal). Latin munificare meant "to enrich." Related: Munificently.
comparative of high (adj.), Old English hierra (West Saxon), hera (Anglian). Higher education is attested by 1839.
The French distinguish l'instruction secondaire, which includes what we term a liberal education, from l'instruction supérieure, which denotes professional education; but I do not think the corresponding English phrases are used with this distinction. [William Whewell, "Of a Liberal Education in General," 1850]
Higher-up (n.) "one in a superior post" is from 1905, American English.
The earliest use of the word in English was early 15c., a separate borrowing in the academic sense "of the trivium" (the first three liberal arts -- grammar, rhetoric, and logic); from Medieval Latin use of trivialis in the sense "of the first three liberal arts," from trivium, neuter of the Latin adjective trivius "of three roads, of the crossroads." Related: Trivially. For sense evolution to "pertaining to useless information," see trivia.
c. 1200, in reference to the Christian virtue, "benevolent, kind, manifesting Christian love in its highest and broadest form," from Old French charitable, from charité (see charity). Meaning "liberal in treatment of the poor" is from c. 1400; that of "inclined to impute favorable motives to others" is from 1620s. Related: Charitableness; charitably.
c. 1600, "characterized by advancement, going forward, moving onward" (in action, character, etc.), from progress (n.) + -ive, or else from French progressif, from past participle stem of Latin progredi. Specifically of taxation, from 1889. From the notion of "using one's efforts toward advancement or improvement" comes the meaning "characterized by striving for change and innovation, avant-garde, liberal" (in arts, etc.), from 1908; of jazz, from 1947.
In the socio-political sense "favoring reform; radically liberal" it emerged in various British contexts from the 1880s; in the U.S. it was given to a movement active in the 1890s and a generation thereafter, the name being taken again from time to time, most recently by some more liberal Democrats and other social activists, by c. 2000.
The noun in the sense "one who favors, promotes, or commends social and political change in the name of progress" is attested by 1865 (originally in Christianity). Earlier in a like sense were progressionist (1849, adjective; 1884, noun), progressist (1848). Related: Progressively; progressiveness.