"seize forcibly or roughly," 1580s, from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German grabben "to grab," from Proto-Germanic *grab-, *grap- (source also of Old English græppian "to seize," Old Saxon garva, Old High German garba "sheaf," literally "that which is gathered up together"), from PIE *ghrebh- (1) "to seize, reach" (source also of Sanskrit grbhnati "seizes," Old Persian grab- "seize" as possession or prisoner, Old Church Slavonic grabiti "to seize, rob," Lithuanian grėbti "to rake"). Sense of "to get by unscrupulous methods" was reinforced by grab game, a kind of swindle, attested from 1846. Related: Grabbed; grabbing.
The funeral display is so called because it resembled a harrow (hearse in its sense of "portcullis" is not attested in English before 15c.). Sense extended to other temporary frameworks built over dead people, then to "vehicle for carrying a dead person to the grave," a sense first recorded 1640s. For spelling, see head (n.).
pseudo-translation of French Cendrillon, from cendre "ashes" (see cinder). Used figuratively for something unappreciated or something that ends at midnight. A widespread Eurasian folk tale, the oldest known version is Chinese (c. 850 C.E.); the English version is based on Perrault's "Cendrillon" (1697), translated from French 1729 by Robert Sambler, but native versions probably existed (such as Scottish "Rashin Coatie").
The German form is Aschenbrödel, literally "scullion," from asche "ash" (see ash (n.1)) + brodeln "bubble up, to brew." Native words, wisely passed over by Sambler, for "woman whose occupation is to rake ciders into heaps" were cinder-woman (17c.); cinder-wench (1712). Used figuratively for "neglected family member" or in reference to something that ends at midnight.
Old English col "charcoal; live coal, piece of wood or other combustible substance, either burning or having been burned," from Proto-Germanic *kula(n) (source also of Old Frisian kole, Middle Dutch cole, Dutch kool, Old High German chol, German Kohle, Old Norse kol), from PIE root *g(e)u-lo- "live coal" (source also of Irish gual "coal").
Meaning "solid mineral consisting of fossilized carbon, combustible and used as fuel," is from mid-13c. The thing itself is mentioned 370 B.C.E. by Theophrastus in his treatise "On Stones" under the name lithos anthrakos (see anthrax). Traditionally good luck, coal was given as a New Year's gift in England, said to guarantee a warm hearth for the coming year.
The phrase drag (or rake) over the coals was a reference to the treatment meted out to heretics by Christians. To carry coals "do dirty work," also "submit to insult" is from 1520s.
To carry coals to Newcastle "add to that of which there is already an abundance, do unnecessary labor " (c. 1600) is a local variant on an ancient class of expression: Latin had in litus harenas fundere "pour sand on the beach," in silvam ligna ferre "carry wood to the woods;" Greek glauk eis Athenas "owls to Athens." Newcastle is in the midst of a great coal-producing region. The ancient view is not necessarily the modern one. A historian, noting that the medieval English exported manufactured cloth to the Low Countries, where weaving was a major industry, writes, "it is always sensible to send coals to Newcastle or owls to Athens if you can be sure of underselling the locals" [George D. Painter, "William Caxton," 1976]