1530s, "action, a thing performed, anything done, a deed," good or evil but in 16c.-17c. commonly "evil deed, crime;" from Latin factum "an event, occurrence, deed, achievement," in Medieval Latin also "state, condition, circumstance" (source also of Old French fait, Spanish hecho, Italian fatto), etymologically "a thing done," noun use of neuter of factus, past participle of facere "to do" (from PIE root *dhe- "to set, put").
An earlier adaptation of the Old French word that also became feat. The older senses are mostly obsolete but somewhat preserved in such phrases as after the fact, originally legal, "after the crime." Also compare matter-of-fact.
The modern, empirical, sense of "thing known to be true, a real state of things, what has really occurred or is actually the case," as distinguished from statement or belief, is from 1630s, from the notion of "something that has actually occurred." The particular concept of the scientific, empirical fact ("a truth known by observation or authentic testimony") emerged in English 1660s, via Hooke, Boyle, etc., in The Royal Society, as part of the creation of the modern vocabulary of knowledge (along with theory, hypothesis, etc.); in early 18c. it was associated with the philosophical writings of Hume. Middle English thus lacked the noun and the idea of it; the closest expression being perhaps thing proved (c.1500).
Hence facts "real state of things;" in fact "in reality" (1707). By 1729, fact was being used of "something presented as a fact but which might be or is false."
By fact is also often meant a true statement, a truth, or truth in general ; but this seems to be a mere inexactness of language .... Fact, as being special, is sometimes opposed to truth, as being universal ; and in such cases there is an implication that facts are minute matters ascertained by research, and often inferior in their importance for the formation of general opinions, or for the general description of phenomena, to other matters which are of familiar experience. [Century Dictionary]
Facts of life is by 1854 as "the stark realities of existence;" by 1913 it had also acquired a more specific sense of "knowledge of human sexual functions." The alliterative pairing of facts and figures for "precise information" is by 1727.
Facts and Figures are the most stubborn Evidences; they neither yield to the most persuasive Eloquence, nor bend to the most imperious Authority. [Abel Boyer, "The Political State of Great Britain," 1727]
Facts are stubborn things is in an 1822 translation of the popular novel "Gil Blas" (earlier English translations have facts speak for themselves).
Old English lætan (Northumbrian leta) "to allow; to leave behind, depart from; leave undone; bequeath," also "to rent, put to rent or hire" (class VII strong verb; past tense let, leort, past participle gelæten), from Proto-Germanic *letan (source also of Old Saxon latan, Old Frisian leta, Dutch laten, Old High German lazan, German lassen, Gothic letan "to leave, let"), from PIE *led-, extended form of root *lē- "to let go, slacken." If that derivation is correct, the etymological sense might be "let go through weariness, neglect."
The idea of slackening lies at the root of both applications of the term. When we speak of letting one go, letting him do something, we conceive him as previously restrained by a band, the loosening or slackening of which will permit the execution of the act in question. ... At other times the slackness is attributed to the agent himself, when let acquires the sense of being slack in action, delaying or omitting to do. [Hensleigh Wedgwood, "A Dictionary of English Etymology," 1859]
He points to similar developments in French laisser "to let" from Latin laxare "to slacken," German lassen "to permit, to let," from dialectal lass "loose."
"The shortening of the root vowel ... has not been satisfactorily explained" [OED]. Of blood, from late Old English. Other Old and Middle English senses include "regard as, consider; behave toward; allow to escape; pretend;" to let (someone) know and to let fly (arrows, etc.) preserve the otherwise obsolete sense of "to cause to."
To let (someone) off "allow to go unpunished, excuse from service" is from 1814. To let on is from 1725 as "allow (something) to be known, betray one's knowledge of," 1822 as "pretend" (OED finds a similar use in the phrase never let it on him in a letter from 1637). To let out is late 12c. as "allow to depart" (transitive); intransitive use "be concluded," of schools, meetings, etc., is from 1888, considered by Century Dictionary (1895) to be "Rural, U.S." Of garments, etc., late 14c.
Let alone "abstain from interfering with" is in Old English; the phrase in the sense "not to mention, to say nothing of" is from 1812. To let (something) be "leave it alone" is from c. 1300; let it be "let it pass, leave it alone" is from early 14c. To let go is from c. 1300 as "allow to escape," 1520s as "cease to restrain," 1530s as "dismiss from one's thoughts." Let it go "let it pass, no matter" is as old as Chaucer's Wife of Bath: "But age allas Hath me biraft my beautee Lat it go, far wel, the deuel go ther with!" [c. 1395]. Let me see "show me" is from c. 1300.
[stone, mass of mineral matter], Middle English rokke, roche "stone as a substance; large rocky formation, rocky height or outcrop, crag," from Old English rocc (as in stanrocc "stone rock or obelisk") and directly from Old North French roque, variant of Old French roche, which is cognate with Medieval Latin rocca (8c.), from Vulgar Latin *rocca, a word of uncertain origin. According to Klein and Century Dictionary, sometimes said to be from Celtic (compare Breton roch). Diez suggests Vulgar Latin *rupica, from Latin rupes "rocks."
In Middle English it seems to have been used principally for large rock formations but occasionally of individual boulders. The extended sense of "a stone of any size" is by 1793, American English colloquial, and long was considered incorrect.
It is an error to use rock for a stone so small that a man can handle it : only a fabulous person or a demi-god can lift a rock. [Century Dictionary]
The meaning "precious stone," especially a diamond, is by 1908, U.S. slang; the sense of "crystallized cocaine" is attested from 1973 in West Coast slang. Also used attributively in names of animals that frequent rocky habitats, as in rockfish, rock badger, rock lobster (the last attested by 1843).
Rock is used figuratively for "a sure foundation, something which gives one protection and security" (especially with reference to Christ), from the 1520s (Tyndale); but it also has been used since the 1520s as "cause or source of peril or destruction," an image from shipwrecks.
Between a rock and a hard place "beset by difficulties with no good alternatives" is attested by 1914 in U.S. Southwest:
to be between a rock and a hard place, vb. ph. To be bankrupt. Common in Arizona in recent panics; sporadic in California. [Dialect Notes, vol. v, part iv, 1921]
As an example of fine distinctions, a party of men were discussing the present situation of the German army, this week. One remarked that the Germans were between the devil and the deep sea; while another corrected him by saying that the Germans were between the upper and nether mill stone. The third man whose name is Pilgreen, and who works in the treasurer's office, simply remarked that the Germans were between a rock and a hard place. [local item in the Pouteau (Oklahoma) Weekly Sun, Oct. 1, 1914]
The rock-scissors-paper game is attested by that name by 1976 (as paper stone and scissors by 1941). Sources agree it is based on Japanese Jan Ken Po or Jan Ken Pon (or Janken for short); the Japanese game is described in English publications by 1879.
English coin, Middle English peni, from Old English pening, penig, Northumbrian penning "penny," from Proto-Germanic *panninga- (source also of Old Norse penningr, Swedish pänning, Danish penge, Old Frisian panning, Old Saxon pending, Middle Dutch pennic, Dutch penning, Old High German pfenning, German Pfennig, not recorded in Gothic where skatts is used instead), a word of unknown origin.
Offa's reformed coinage on light, broad flans is likely to have begun c.760-5 in London, with an awareness of developments in Francia and East Anglia. ... The broad flan penny established by Offa remained the principal denomination, with only minor changes, until the fourteenth century. [Anna Gannon, "The Iconography of Early Anglo-Saxon Coinage," Oxford, 2003]
The English coin was originally set at one-twelfth of a shilling (or 240 to a Tower pound) and was of silver, later copper, then bronze. There are two plural forms: pennies of individual coins, pence collectively. In Middle English, any coin could be called a penny, and in translations it rendered various foreign coins of small denomination, especially Latin denarius, whence comes its abbreviation d.
As an American English colloquial for cent, it is recorded by 1889. In reference to nails, "a pound," denoting that 1,000 nails will weigh so much, OED says it probably is based originally on the price per 100 and persisted as prices fell.
Penny-a-liner "writer for a journal or newspaper" is attested by 1830, from their supposed rate of pay. Penny dreadful in reference to "cheap and gory fiction" dates from 1870. Phrase penny-wise and pound-foolish is recorded from c. 1600.
Penny-pincher "miserly person" is recorded from 1906 (Middle English had pinchpenny (n.) in that sense; as an adjective penny-pinching is recorded from 1858, American English). Penny loafers attested from 1960, perhaps from the fashion of slipping a penny into the slits of the bands across the facing.
"A regular penny-a-liner is a person who supplies the newspapers of the city with short articles of news, ingenious remarks upon the current topics of the day, reports of meetings, or of cases in the police offices, accidents, &c. &c., but who, observe, has no express engagement from, or any direct connexion with, any newspaper whatever. His success is wholly precarious—always uncertain. If the contributions which those persons forward for publication, in this way, are published, they are certain of payment for them at the rate of one penny, three half-pence, and in rare cases, two pence a-line, according to the importance of the subject matter supplied. ["The London Penny-a-Line System," Irish Monthly Magazine, January 1833]
eighteenth letter of the English alphabet, traceable to Phoenician and always representing more or less the same sound, which in many languages is typically so resonant and continuous as to be nearly akin to the vowels, but in English is closer to -l-.
It was aspirated at the start of words (hr-) in Old English, as in Greek, but this was abandoned in English spelling and pronunciation by the end of the Old English period, but the rh- spelling survives in many words borrowed from Greek. In many languages and some dialects (e.g. Scottish) it is pronounced with a distinct trilling vibration of the tongue-tip, which gave it its ancient nickname of "the dog letter;" in other regional dialects (e.g. Boston) it is omitted unless followed by a vowel, while in others it is introduced artificially in pronunciation ("idear," "drawring").
If all our r's that are written are pronounced, the sound is more common than any other in English utterance (over seven per cent.); the instances of occurrence before a vowel, and so of universal pronunciation, are only half as frequent. There are localities where the normal vibration of the tip of the tongue is replaced by one of the uvula, making a guttural trill, which is still more entitled to the name of "dog's letter" than is the ordinary r; such are considerable parts of France and Germany; the sound appears to occur only sporadically in English pronunciation. [Century Dictionary]
Louise Pound ("The Humorous 'R'") notes that in British humorous writing, -ar- "popularly indicates the sound of the vowel in father" and formations like larf (for laugh) "are to be read with the broad vowel but no uttered r."
The moment we encounter the added r's of purp or dorg in our reading we know that we have to do with humor, and so with school-marm. The added consonants are supposed to be spoken, if the words are uttered, but, as a matter of fact, they are less often uttered than seen. The words are, indeed, largely visual forms; the humor is chiefly for the eye. [Louise Pound, "The Humorous 'R,'" American Mercury, October 1924]
She also quotes Henry James on the characteristic prominence of the medial -r- sound (which tends to be dropped in England and New England) in the speech of the U.S. Midwest, "under some strange impulse received toward consonantal recovery of balance, making it present even in words from which it is absent, bringing it in everywhere as with the small vulgar effect of a sort of morose grinding of the back teeth."
In a circle, meaning "registered (trademark)," attested by 1925. R&R "rest and relaxation," is attested by 1953, American English; R&B "rhythm and blues" (type of popular music) is attested by 1949, American English. Form three Rs, see Three Rs.
Old English fyr "fire, a fire," from Proto-Germanic *fūr- (source also of Old Saxon fiur, Old Frisian fiur, Old Norse fürr, Middle Dutch and Dutch vuur, Old High German fiur, German Feuer "fire"), from PIE *perjos, from root *paewr- "fire." Current spelling is attested as early as 1200, but did not fully displace Middle English fier (preserved in fiery) until c. 1600.
PIE apparently had two roots for fire: *paewr- and *egni- (source of Latin ignis). The former was "inanimate," referring to fire as a substance, and the latter was "animate," referring to it as a living force (compare water (n.1)).
Brend child fuir fordredeþ ["The Proverbs of Hendyng," c. 1250]
English fire was applied to "ardent, burning" passions or feelings from mid-14c. Meaning "discharge of firearms, action of guns, etc." is from 1580s. To be on fire is from c. 1500 (in fire attested from c. 1400, as is on a flame "on fire"). To play with fire in the figurative sense "risk disaster, meddle carelessly or ignorantly with a dangerous matter" is by 1861, from the common warning to children. Phrase where's the fire?, said to one in an obvious hurry, is by 1917, American English.
Fire-bell is from 1620s; fire-alarm as a self-acting, mechanical device is from 1808 as a theoretical creation; practical versions began to appear in the early 1830s. Fire-escape (n.) is from 1788 (the original so-called was a sort of rope-ladder disguised as a small settee); fire-extinguisher is from 1826. A fire-bucket (1580s) carries water to a fire. Fire-house is from 1899; fire-hall from 1867, fire-station from 1828. Fire company "men for managing a fire-engine" is from 1744, American English. Fire brigade "firefighters organized in a body in a particular place" is from 1838. Fire department, usually a branch of local government, is from 1805. Fire-chief is from 1877; fire-ranger from 1887.
Symbolic fire and the sword is by c. 1600 (translating Latin flamma ferroque absumi); earlier yron and fyre (1560s), with suerd & flawme (mid-15c.), mid fure & mid here ("with fire and armed force"), c. 1200. Fire-breathing is from 1590s. To set the river on fire, "accomplish something surprising or remarkable" (usually with a negative and said of one considered foolish or incompetent) is by 1830, often with the name of a river, varying according to locality, but the original is set the Thames on fire (1796). The hypothetical feat was mentioned as the type of something impossibly difficult by 1720; it circulated as a theoretical possibility under some current models of chemistry c. 1792-95, which may have contributed to the rise of the expression.
[A]mong other fanciful modes of demonstrating the practicability of conducting the gas wherever it might be required, he anchored a small boat in the stream about 50 yards from the shore, to which he conveyed a pipe, having the end turned up so as to rise above the water, and forcing the gas through the pipe, lighted it just above the surface, observing to his friends "that he had now set the river on fire." ["On the Origins and Progress of Gas-lighting," in "Repertory of Patent Inventions," vol. III, London, 1827]