Etymology
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plain (adj.)

c. 1300, "flat, smooth," from Old French plain "flat, smooth, even" (12c.), from Latin planus "flat, even, level" (from PIE root *pele- (2) "flat; to spread"). Sense of "explicit, clear, evident" is from late 14c.; that of "free from obstruction" is mid-14c.; meaning "simple, sincere, ordinary" is recorded from late 14c., especially of dress, "unembellished, without decoration, unadorned." Of words, speech, etc., "direct and to the point," late 14c. As an adverb from late 14c.

In reference to the dress and speech of Quakers, it is recorded from 1824; of Amish and Mennonites, from 1894 (in the Dutch regions of Pennsylvania Plain with the capital is shorthand adjective for "Amish and Old Order Mennonite"). Of appearance, as a euphemism for "ill-favored, ugly" it dates from 1749. Of envelopes from 1913.

Plain English is from c. 1500. Plain dealer "one who speaks his opinions candidly; one who is frank, honest, and open" is from 1570s, marked "Now rare" in OED 2nd edition, though it survives since 1842 as the name of the main newspaper of Cleveland, Ohio. To be as plain as the nose on (one's) face "obvious" is from 1690s.

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just (adj.)

late 14c., "morally upright, righteous  in the eyes of God" ("Now chiefly as a Biblical archaism" - OED); also "equitable, fair, impartial in one's dealings;" also "fitting, proper, conforming to standards or rules;" also "justifiable, reasonable;" from Old French juste "just, righteous; sincere" (12c.) and directly from Latin iustus "upright, righteous, equitable; in accordance with law, lawful; true, proper; perfect, complete" (source also of Spanish and Portuguese justo, Italian giusto), from ius "a right," especially "legal right, law" (see jurist; from Latin ius also come English jury (n.), injury, etc.).

From c. 1400 as "right-minded, good in intention;" from early 15c. as "legal, lawful, right in law." Also "exact, precise; marked or characterized by precision; having correct dimensions" (late 14c.); of narrations, calculations, etc., "accurate, correct" (early 15c.). The sense in music, "harmonically pure, correct, and exact" is by 1850.

The more mundane Latin law-word lex covered specific laws as opposed to the body of laws. The noun meaning "righteous person or persons; Christ" is from late 14c. (The neuter adjective in Latin was used as a noun, iustum, "what is right or just").

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frank (adj.)

c. 1300, "free, liberal, generous;" 1540s, "outspoken," from Old French franc "free (not servile); without hindrance, exempt from; sincere, genuine, open, gracious, generous; worthy, noble, illustrious" (12c.), from Medieval Latin francus "free, at liberty, exempt from service," as a noun, "a freeman, a Frank" (see Frank).

Frank, literally, free; the freedom may be in regard to one's own opinions, which is the same as openness, or in regard to things belonging to others, where the freedom may go so far as to be unpleasant, or it may disregard conventional ideas as to reticence. Hence, while openness is consistent with timidity, frankness implies some degree of boldness. [Century Dictionary]

A generalization of the tribal name; the connection is that Franks, as the conquering class, alone had the status of freemen in a world that knew only free, captive, or slave. For sense connection of "being one of the nation" and "free," compare Latin liber "free," from the same root as German Leute "nation, people" (see liberal (adj.)) and Slavic "free" words (Old Church Slavonic svobodi, Polish swobodny, Serbo-Croatian slobodan) which are cognates of the first element in English sibling "brother, sister" (in Old English used more generally: "relative, kinsman"). For the later sense development, compare ingenuity.

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gentleman (n.)

c. 1200, perhaps mid-12c., "well-born man, man of good family or birth," also extended to Roman patricians and ancient Greek aristocrats, from gentle + man (n.); the compound probably is modeled on Old French gentilhomme (the English gentleman itself was borrowed into French in 18c.).

Given specific uses in late Middle English (small gentleman, gentleman-of-arms, gentleman-usher, etc.), hence in England the word often meant any man above the social rank of a yeoman, including the nobility, but it was sometimes restricted to those who bear a coat of arms but not a title; in U.S., "man of property, not engaged in business or a profession" (1789). The English word from the beginning also had a special sense "nobleman whose behavior conforms to the ideals of chivalry and Christianity," and gentleman came to be used loosely for any man of good breeding, courtesy, kindness, honor, strict regard for the feelings of others, etc.

[The Gentleman] is always truthful and sincere ; will not agree for the sake of complaisance or out of weakness ; will not pass over that of which he disapproves. He has a clear soul, and a fearless, straightforward tongue. On the other hand, he is not blunt and rude. His truth is courteous ; his courtesy, truthful ; never a humbug, yet, where he truthfully can, he prefers to say pleasant things. [The Rev. John R. Vernon, "The Grand Old Name of Gentleman," in Contemporary Review, vol. XI, May-August 1869]

Eventually, in polite use, it came to mean a man in general, regardless of social standing. Related: Gentlemen. Gentleman's agreement is first attested 1929. Gentleman farmer recorded from 1749, "A man of means who farms on a large scale, employs hands, and does little or none of the work himself" [Craigie, "Dictionary of American English"].

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civil (adj.)

late 14c., "relating to civil law or life; pertaining to the internal affairs of a state," from Old French civil "civil, relating to civil law" (13c.) and directly from Latin civilis "relating to a society, pertaining to public life, relating to the civic order, befitting a citizen," hence by extension "popular, affable, courteous;" alternative adjectival derivative of civis "townsman" (see city).

Meaning "not barbarous, civilized" is from 1550s. Specifically "relating to the commonwealth as secularly organized" (as opposed to military or ecclesiastical) by 1610s. Meaning "relating to the citizen in his relation to the commonwealth or to fellow citizens" also is from 1610s.

The word civil has about twelve different meanings; it is applied to all manner of objects, which are perfectly disparate. As opposed to criminal, it means all law not criminal. As opposed to ecclesiastical, it means all law not ecclesiastical: as opposed to military, it means all law not military, and so on. [John Austin, "Lectures on Jurisprudence," 1873]

The sense of "polite" was in classical Latin, but English did not pick up this nuance of the word until late 16c., and it has tended to descend in meaning to "meeting minimum standards of courtesy." "Courteous is thus more commonly said of superiors, civil of inferiors, since it implies or suggests the possibility of incivility or rudeness" [OED].

Civil, literally, applies to one who fulfills the duty of a citizen; It may mean simply not rude, or observant of the external courtesies of intercourse, or quick to do and say gratifying and complimentary things. ...  Courteous, literally, expresses that style of politeness which belongs to courts: a courteous man is one who is gracefully respectful in his address and manner — one who exhibits a union of dignified complaisance and kindness. The word applies to all sincere kindness and attention. [Century Dictionary, 1895]

Civil case (as opposed to criminal) is recorded from 1610s. Civil liberty "natural liberty restrained by law only so far as is necessary for the public good" is by 1640s.

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