1560s, "recognize as different or distinct from what is contiguous or similar; perceive, make out," from French distinguiss-, stem of distinguer, or directly from Latin distinguere "to separate between, keep separate, mark off, distinguish," perhaps literally "separate by pricking," from assimilated form of dis- "apart" (see dis-) + -stinguere "to prick" (compare extinguish and Latin instinguere "to incite, impel").
Watkins says "semantic transmission obscure;" the sense might be from "pricking out" as the old way to make punctuation in parchment or some literal image, but de Vaan derives the second element from a different PIE root meaning "to push, thrust":
The meanings of ex- and restinguere 'to extinguish' and distinguere seem quite distinct, but can be understood if the root meant 'to press' or 'push': ex-stinguere 'to put a fire out', re-stinguere 'to push back, suppress', and dis-stinguere 'to push apart [thence] distinguish, mark off ....
The suffix -ish is due to the influence of many verbs in which it is the equivalent of Old French -iss-, ultimately from Latin inchoative suffix -iscere (this is also the case in extinguish, admonish, and astonish).
Sense of "to mark or note in a way to indicate difference" is from 1570s; that of "separate from others by some mark of honor or preferment" is from c. 1600. Intransitive meaning "make a distinction, find or show difference (between)" is from 1610s. Related: Distinguishing. The Middle English form of the verb was distinguen (mid-14c.).
Middle English above, aboven (also aboun in northern dialects, abow in southwestern dialects), from Old English abufan (adv., prep.), earlier onbufan "above, in or to a higher place, on the upper side; directly over, in or to a higher place than," a contraction or compound of on (also see a- (1)) + bufan "over."
The second element is itself a compound of be "by" (see by) + ufan "over/high" (from Proto-Germanic *ufan-, source also of Old Saxon, Old High German oban, German oben; from PIE root *upo "under," also "up from under," hence also "over").
From c. 1200 as "of higher rank or position, superior in authority or power; of higher rank than, superior to." This sense in Middle English perhaps was reinforced by a literal use of above in the sense "higher at the table than," thus "in a place of greater honor than, taking precedence over" (mid-14c.) From mid-14c. as "in addition to;" also "superior to, out of reach of, not condescending to." From late 14c. as "more" (in number, linear measurement, weight, value); "older; better than, more desirable than, superior to."
Phrase above all "before other considerations" is from late 14c. To be above (someone's) head in the figurative sense "out of range of his or her intellect" is from 1914 (above in the sense "not to be grasped or understood by" is from mid-14c.). In Middle English to be above erthe was "above ground, unburied," hence "living, among the living."
early 12c., coroune, croune, "royal crown, ornament for the head as a symbol of sovereignty," from Anglo-French coroune, Old French corone (13c., Modern French couronne) and directly from Latin corona "crown," originally "wreath, garland," related to Greek korōnē "anything curved, a kind of crown."
According to Watkins this is from a suffixed form of PIE root *sker- (2) "to turn, bend." But Beekes considers the "crown" sense as derived from the formally identical Greek word korōnē "crow" (see raven), which, he says, was used metaphorically "of all kinds of curved or hook-formed objects." "Moreover," he writes, "the metaphorical use of [korōnē] 'crow' is nothing remarkable given the use of its cognates ...; the metaphors may have originated from the shape of the beak or the claws of the bird." Compare Latin corax "crow," also "a hooked engine of war," French corbeau "raven," also "cantilever;" English crowbar, etc.
Old English used corona, directly from Latin. Figuratively, "regal power," from c. 1200. From late 14c. as "a crowning honor or distinction." From c. 1300 as "top part of the skull or head;" from 1670s as "top of a hat." From 1804 as "part of a tooth which appears above the gum."
Extended late 14c. to "coin bearing the imprint of a crown or a crowned head," especially the British silver 5-shilling piece. Also the name of monetary units in Iceland, Sweden (krona), Norway, Denmark (krone), and formerly in German Empire and Austria-Hungary (krone). Crown of thorns was late Old English þornene crune.
Old English tun "enclosure, garden, field, yard; farm, manor; homestead, dwelling house, mansion;" later "group of houses, village, farm," from Proto-Germanic *tunaz, *tunan "fortified place" (source also of Old Saxon, Old Norse, Old Frisian tun "fence, hedge," Middle Dutch tuun "fence," Dutch tuin "garden," Old High German zun, German Zaun "fence, hedge"), an early borrowing from Celtic *dunon "hill, hill-fort" (source also of Old Irish dun, Welsh din "fortress, fortified place, camp," dinas "city," Gaulish-Latin -dunum in place names), from PIE *dhu-no- "enclosed, fortified place, hill-fort," from root *dheue- "to close, finish, come full circle" (see down (n.2)).
Meaning "inhabited place larger than a village" (mid-12c.) arose after the Norman conquest from the use of this word to correspond to French ville. The modern word is partially a generic term, applicable to cities of great size as well as places intermediate between a city and a village; such use is unusual, the only parallel is perhaps Latin oppidium, which occasionally was applied even to Rome or Athens (each of which was more properly an urbs).
First record of town hall is from late 15c. Town ball, version of baseball, is recorded from 1852. Town car (1907) originally was a motor car with an enclosed passenger compartment and open driver's seat. On the town "living the high life" is from 1712. Go to town "do (something) energetically" is first recorded 1933. Man about town "one constantly seen at public and private functions" is attested from 1734.
common name of any lepidopterous insect active in daylight, Old English buttorfleoge, evidently butter (n.) + fly (n.), but the name is of obscure signification. Perhaps based on the old notion that the insects (or, according to Grimm, witches disguised as butterflies) consume butter or milk that is left uncovered. Or, less creatively, simply because the pale yellow color of many species' wings suggests the color of butter. Another theory connects it to the color of the insect's excrement, based on Dutch cognate boterschijte. Also see papillon.
Applied to persons from c. 1600, originally in reference to vain and gaudy attire; by 1806 in reference to transformation from early lowly state; in reference to flitting tendencies by 1873. The swimming stroke so called from 1935. As a type of mechanical nut, 1869. Butterflies "light stomach spasms caused by anxiety" is from 1908. Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel? is from Pope.
The butterfly effect is a deceptively simple insight extracted from a complex modern field. As a low-profile assistant professor in MIT's department of meteorology in 1961, [Edward] Lorenz created an early computer program to simulate weather. One day he changed one of a dozen numbers representing atmospheric conditions, from .506127 to .506. That tiny alteration utterly transformed his long-term forecast, a point Lorenz amplified in his 1972 paper, "Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?" [Peter Dizikes, "The Meaning of the Butterfly," The Boston Globe, June 8, 2008]
A truth known for ages to poets and philosophers (atomists) which modern science ponders as a possible fact.
late 14c., "free choice, freedom to do as one chooses," also "freedom from the bondage of sin," from Old French liberte "freedom, liberty, free will" (14c., Modern French liberté), from Latin libertatem (nominative libertas) "civil or political freedom, condition of a free man; absence of restraint; permission," from liber "free" (see liberal (adj.)). At first of persons; of communities, "state of being free from arbitrary, despotic, or autocratic rule or control" is by late 15c.
The French notion of liberty is political equality; the English notion is personal independence. [William R. Greg, "France in January 1852" in "Miscellaneous Essays"]
Nautical sense of "leave of absence" is from 1758. The meaning "unrestrained action, conduct, or expression" (1550s) led to take liberties "go beyond the bounds of propriety" (1620s). The sense of "privileges by grant" (14c.) led to the sense of "a person's private land" (mid-15c.), within which certain special privileges may be exercised, which yielded in 18c. in both England and America a sense of "a district within a county but having its own justice of the peace," and also "a district adjacent to a city and in some degree under its municipal jurisdiction" (as in Northern Liberties of Philadelphia). Also compare Old French libertés "local rights, laws, taxes."
Liberty-cap is from 1803; the American Revolutionary liberty-pole, "tall flagstaff set up in honor of liberty and often surmounted by a liberty-cap" is from 1775. Liberty-cabbage was a World War I U.S. jingoistic euphemism for sauerkraut.
c. 1200 (late 12c. in place names and surnames), "an unmarried woman (usually young); the Virgin Mary;" shortening of maiden (n.). Like that word, used in Middle English of unmarried men as well as women (as in maiden-man, c. 1200, which was used of both sexes, reflecting also the generic use of man).
From c. 1300 as "a virgin," also as "maidservant, female attendant, lady in waiting." By c. 1500 this had yielded the humbler sense of "female servant or attendant charged with domestic duties." Often with a qualifying word (housemaid, chambermaid, etc.); maid of all work "female servant who performs general housework" is by 1790.
Her Mamma was a famous Fryer of Fishes,
Squeezer of Mops, Washer of Dishes,
From tossing of Pancakes would not Shirk,
In English plain, a Maid of all Work.
But don't mistake me, by Divinity,
When I mention Maid, I don't mean Virginity
[from "Countess of Fame and her Trumpeter," 1793]
In reference to Joan of Arc, attested from 1540s (French la Pucelle). Maid Marian, the Queen of the May in the morris dances, also one of Robin Hood's companions, is recorded by 1520s, perhaps from French, where Robin et Marian have been stock names for country lovers since 13c. Maid of Honor (1580s) originally was "unmarried lady of noble birth who attends a queen or princess;" meaning "principal bridesmaid" is attested from 1895. Maydelond (translating Latin terra feminarum) was "the land of the Amazons."
c. 1200, "graphic symbol, alphabetic sign, written character conveying information about sound in speech," from Old French letre "character, letter; missive, note," in plural, "literature, writing, learning" (10c., Modern French lettre), from Latin littera (also litera) "letter of the alphabet," also "an epistle, writing, document; literature, great books; science, learning;" a word of uncertain origin.
According to Watkins, perhaps via Etruscan from Greek diphthera "tablet" (with change of d- to l- as in lachrymose), from a hypothetical root *deph- "to stamp." In this sense it replaced Old English bocstæf, literally "book staff" (compare German Buchstabe "letter, character," from Old High German buohstab, from Proto-Germanic *bok-staba-m).
Latin littera also meant "a writing, document, record," and in plural litteræ "a letter, epistle, missive communication in writing," a sense passed through French and attested in English letter since early 13c. (replacing Old English ærendgewrit "written message," literally "errand-writing"). The Latin plural also meant "literature, books," and figuratively "learning, liberal education, schooling" (see letters).
The custom of giving the school letter as an achievement award in sports, attested by 1908, is said to have originated with University of Chicago football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg. Earlier in reference to colleges it meant "university degree or honor that adds initials to a name" (1888). Expression to the letter "precisely" is from 1520s (earlier after the letter, mid-14c.). Letter-quality (adj.) "suitable for (business) letters" is from 1977. For letters patent (with French word order) see patent (n.).
Old English feond "enemy, foe, adversary," originally present participle of feogan "to hate," from Proto-Germanic *fijand- "hating, hostile" (source also of Old Frisian fiand "enemy," Old Saxon fiond, Middle Dutch viant, Dutch vijand "enemy," Old Norse fjandi, Old High German fiant, Gothic fijands), from suffixed form of PIE root *pe(i)- "to hurt" (source also of Sanskrit pijati "reviles, scorns;" Avestan paman-, name of a skin disease; Greek pema "disaster, sorrow, misery, woe;" Gothic faian "to blame").
As spelling suggests, the word originally was the opposite of friend (n.). Both are from the active participles of the Germanic verbs for "to love" and "to hate." Boutkan says the "fiend" word was a Germanic analogical formation from the "friend" word. According to Bammesberger ["English Etymology"], "The long vowel in FIEND is regular. In FRIEND the vowel has been shortened; perhaps the shortening is due to compounds like FRIENDSHIP, in which the consonant group (-nds-) regularly caused shortening of the preceeding long vowel."
Fiend at first described any hostile enemy (male and female, with abstract noun form feondscipe "fiendship"), but it began to be used in late Old English for "the Devil, Satan" (literally "adversary") as the "enemy of mankind," which shifted its sense to "diabolical person" (early 13c.). The old sense of the word devolved to foe, then to the imported word enemy. For spelling with -ie- see field. Meaning "devotee (of whatever is indicated)," as in dope fiend, is from 1865.
late 13c.,carpet, carpete, "coarse cloth;" mid-14c., "tablecloth, bedspread;" from Old French carpite "heavy decorated cloth, a carpet" (Modern French carpette), from Medieval Latin or Old Italian carpita "thick woolen cloth," probably from Latin carpere "to card, pluck" (from PIE root *kerp- "to gather, pluck, harvest"). Thus it is so called because it was made from unraveled, shredded, "plucked" fabric. The English word is attested from 15c. in reference to floor coverings, and since 18c. this has been the main sense. The smaller sort is a rug.
Formerly the carpet (usually in a single piece, like the Persian carpet) was also used (as it still is in the East) for covering beds, couches, tables, etc., and in hangings. [Century Dictionary]
From 16c.-19c., by association with luxury, ladies' boudoirs, and drawing rooms, it was used as an adjective, often with a tinge of contempt, in reference to men, as in carpet-knight, 1570s, one who has seen no military service in the field; carpet-monger, 1590s, a lover of ease and pleasure, i.e. one more at home on a carpet.
On the carpet "summoned for reprimand" is by 1900, U.S. colloquial (but compare carpet (v.) "call (someone) to be reprimanded," 1823, British servants' slang). This may have merged with older on the carpet "up for consideration" (1726) literally "on the tablecloth," with the word's older sense, hence "a subject for investigation." To sweep or push something under the carpet in the figurative sense is recorded by 1953.