c. 1300, Prestre Johan, legendary medieval Christian king and priest, said to have ruled either in the Far East or Ethiopia. Prestre (attested as a surname late 12c.) is from Vulgar Latin *prester, a transition between Latin presbyter and English priest. First mentioned in the West by mid-12c. chronicler Otto of Freising, who told how Johannes Presbyter won a great victory over the Persians and the Medes. Between 1165 and 1177 a forged letter purporting to be from him circulated in Europe. All this recalls the time when the Christian West was militarily threatened on its frontiers by Muslim powers, dreaming of a mythical deliverer. Compare Old French prestre Jehan (13c.), Italian prete Gianni.
"a right, a legal claim to one's due," mid-15c., from Old French droit, dreit "right," from Medieval Latin directum (contracted drictum) "right, justice, law," neuter or accusative of Latin directus "straight," past participle of dirigere "set straight" (see direct (v.)).
Droit du seigneur (1825)), from French (1784), was the alleged medieval custom giving a feudal lord the right to have sex with the bride of his vassal on their wedding night before she went to her husband; literally "the lord's right." There is little evidence that it actually existed; it seems to have been invented in imagination 16c. or 17c. The Latin form was jus primae noctis, "law of the first night." For French droit, see right (adj.2).
In reference to dark eyes, often as a mark of beauty, from 1660s. Black-eyed is from 1590s of women, of peas from 1728. The black-eyed Susan as a flower (various species) so called from 1881, for its appearance. It also was the title of a poem by John Gay (1685-1732), which led to a popular mid-19c. British stage play of the same name.
All in the Downs the fleet was moored,
The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came aboard,
"Oh! where shall I my true love find?
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true,
If my sweet William sails among the crew?"
"first of May," on which the opening of the season of flowers and fruit formerly was celebrated throughout Europe, mid-13c.; see May + day (n.). May Queen "girl or young woman crowned with flowers and honored as queen at the games held on May Day," seems to be a Victorian re-invented tradition; the phrase Queen of Maij is attested from c. 1500.
May Day's association with communism (and socialism and anarchism) dates to 1890. A U.S. general strike for an eight-hour workday began May 1, 1886, and culminated in the Haymarket bombing affair in Chicago on May 4. By 1890 strikes, protests, and rallies were being held in Europe by socialist and labor organizations on May 1, at first in support of the eight-hour day, more or less in commemoration of the 1886 strike.
"right of each citizen to liberty, equality, etc.," 1721, American English, from civil in the sense "pertaining to the citizen in his relations to the organized commonwealth or to his fellow citizens." Specifically of black U.S. citizens from 1866, in reference to the Civil Rights Bill, an act of Congress which conferred citizenship upon all persons born in the United States, not subjects of other powers, "of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery." Civil Rights Movement in reference to the drive for racial equality that began in U.S. in mid-1950s is attested by 1963.
Rarely are we met with a challenge, not to our growth or abundance, or our welfare or our security, but rather to the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved nation. The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, and should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation. [Lyndon Johnson, speech introducing Voting Rights Act, March 15, 1965]
severe Puritanical code said to have been enacted mid-17c. at the founding of New Haven and Connecticut colonies, 1781; of uncertain signification, perhaps from the notion of coldness, or from one of the figurative senses in blue (adj.1). Blue was the color adopted by 17c. Scottish Covenanters (in contradistinction to the royal red) and hence the color for a time acquired an association with strictness in morals or religion. Or perhaps connected to bluestocking in the sense of "puritanically plain or mean" (see bluestocking, which is a different application of the same term); the parliament of 1653 was derisively called the bluestocking parliament.
The assertion by some writers of the existence of the blue laws has no other basis than the adoption by the first authorities of the New Haven colony of the Scriptures as their code of law and government, and their strict application of Mosaic principles. [Century Dictionary]
Long, detailed lists of them often are given, but the original reference (in an anonymous history of Connecticut printed in London during the Revolution) says they were so-called by the neighboring colonies, "were never suffered to be printed," and then gives its own long list of them in quotations. The common explanation (dating to 1788) that they were written on blue paper is not now considered valid.