c. 1300, conninge, "knowledge, understanding, information, learning," a sense now obsolete, verbal noun from connen, cunnen "to have ability or capacity," from Old English cunnan (see can v.1). By mid-14c. as "ability to understand, intelligence; wisdom, prudence;" sense of "cleverness, shrewdness, practical skill in a secret or crafty manner" is by late 14c.
"full of instructive sayings," 1784, from French gnomique (18c.) and directly from Late Latin gnomicus "concerned with maxims, didactic," from Greek gnōmikos, from gnōmē "a means of knowing, a mark, token; the mind (as the organ of knowing), thought, judgment, intelligence; (one's) mind, will, purpose; a judgment, opinion; maxim, the opinion of wise men," from root of gignōskein "to come to know," from PIE root *gno- "to know." Gnomical is attested from 1610s.
college slang for "intelligence, wit, cleverness, common sense," 1706, from Greek nous, Attic form of noos "mind, intelligence, perception, intellect," which was taken in English in philosophy 1670s as "the perceptive and intelligent faculty." The Greek word is of uncertain origin. Beekes writes, "No doubt an old inherited verbal noun ..., though there is no certain etymology."
It is always difficult to find an English word to represent nous. The standard dictionary translation is "mind," but this does not have the correct connotations, particularly when the word is used in a religious philosophy. ... Mathematics, the world of ideas, and all thought about what is not sensible, have, for Pythagoras, Plato, and Plotinus, something divine; they constitute the activity of nous, or at least the nearest approach to its activity that we can conceive. [Bertrand Russell, "A History of Western Philosophy"]
c. 1200, resoun, "the intellectual faculty that adopts actions to ends," also "statement in an argument, statement of explanation or justification," from Anglo-French resoun, Old French raison "course; matter; subject; language, speech; thought, opinion," from Latin rationem (nominative ratio) "reckoning, understanding, motive, cause," from ratus, past participle of reri "to reckon, think" (from PIE root *re- "to reason, count").
Meaning "sanity; degree of intelligence that distinguishes men from brutes" is recorded from late 13c.; that of "that which recommends itself to enlightened intelligence, a reasonable view of a matter" is from c. 1300.
The sense of "grounds for action, motive, cause of an event" is from c. 1300. The Middle English sense of "meaning, signification" (early 14c.) is preserved in the phrase rhyme or reason. Phrase it stands to (or with) reason is from 1520s. A reason of state (1610s) is a purely political grounds for action.
The Enlightenment gave reason its focused sense of "intelligence considered as having universal validity ... so that it is not something that belongs to any person, but is something partaken of, a sort of light in which every mind must perceive" [Century Dictionary]. Reason itself has long been personified, typically as a woman. Age of Reason "the European Enlightenment" is first recorded 1794 as the title of Tom Paine's book.
Reason is never a root, neither of act nor desire.
[Robinson Jeffers, "Meditation on Saviors"]
1785, slang, "practical sense, intelligence, knowledge of the world;" also a verb, "to know, to understand;" a West Indies pidgin borrowing of French savez(-vous)? "do you know?" or Spanish sabe (usted) "you know," the verb in both from Vulgar Latin *sapere, from Latin sapere "be wise, be knowing" (see sapient). The adjective, of persons, is attested by 1905, from the noun. Related: Savvily; savviness.
mid-14c. (c. 1200 as a surname), "intelligence; discretion, foresight; practical wisdom to see what is suitable or profitable;" also one of the four cardinal virtues, "wisdom to see what is virtuous;" from Old French prudence (13c.) and directly from Latin prudentia "a foreseeing, foresight, sagacity, practical judgment," contraction of providentia "foresight" (see providence, which is a doublet). The secondary sense of "knowledge, science" (late 14c.) is preserved in jurisprudence.
1550s, of persons or their bodies, "without sensation, incapable of feeling," from sense (n.) + -less. By 1580s as "in a state of unconsciousness." Of actions, words, etc., "devoid of purpose, proceeding from lack of intelligence," also "without meaning, contrary to reason or sound judgment" (the senses usually are indistinguishable), it is attested by 1570s. Related: Senselessly; senselessness. There was a senseful "full of meaning; perceptive, aware" (1590s) but it seems not to have been wanted and is obsolete.
late 14c., "wisdom, understanding, sageness; the reasonable soul, that which distinguishes humans from beasts," from Old French sapience and directly from Latin sapientia "good taste, good sense, discernment; intelligence, wisdom," from sapiens "sensible; shrewd, knowing, discrete;" also "well-acquainted with the true value of things," like Greek sophos (see sapient). Formerly also sometimes especially "intelligent taste" (1660s). OED calls it "A learned synonym. Now rare in serious use."
"mental capacity," Old English wit, witt, more commonly gewit "understanding, intellect, sense; knowledge, consciousness, conscience," from Proto-Germanic *wit- (source also of Old Saxon wit, Old Norse vit, Danish vid, Swedish vett, Old Frisian wit, Old High German wizzi "knowledge, understanding, intelligence, mind," German Witz "wit, witticism, joke," Gothic unwiti "ignorance"), from PIE root *weid- "to see," metaphorically "to know." Related to Old English witan "to know" (source of wit (v.)).
Meaning "ability to connect ideas and express them in an amusing way" is first recorded 1540s; that of "person of wit or learning" is from late 15c. For nuances of usage, see humor (n.). Witjar was old slang (18c.) for "head, skull." Witling (1690s) was "a pretender to wit."
A witty saying proves nothing. [Voltaire, Diner du Comte de Boulainvilliers]
Wit ought to be five or six degrees above the ideas that form the intelligence of an audience. [Stendhal, "Life of Henry Brulard"]
"of or pertaining to the act or power of perceiving," 1650s, from Latin percept-, past-participle stem of percipere (see perceive) + -ive. In reference to intelligence from 1860. From mid-15c. as the name of a type of optical instrument or magic glass revealing future events. The older word in the mental sense was perceptible (q.v.); also compare Middle English perceivaunt "observant" (late 14c.), from Old French and Medieval Latin. Related: Perceptively; perceptiveness.