1520s, "oblique or diagonal line," from French biais "a slant, a slope, an oblique," also figuratively, "an expedient, means" (13c., originally in Old French a past-participle adjective, "sideways, askance, against the grain"), a word of unknown origin. Probably it came to French from Old Provençal biais, which has cognates in Old Catalan and Sardinian, and is possibly via Vulgar Latin *(e)bigassius from Greek epikarsios "athwart, crosswise, at an angle," from epi "upon" (see epi-) + karsios "oblique" (from PIE *krs-yo-, suffixed form of root *sker- (1) "to cut").
In the old game of bowls, it was a technical term used in reference to balls made with a greater weight on one side, causing them to curve obliquely (1560s); hence the figurative use "a one-sided tendency of the mind" (1570s), and, at first especially in law, "undue propensity or prejudice."
The bias of education, the bias of class-relationships, the bias of nationality, the political bias, the theological bias—these, added to the constitutional sympathies and antipathies, have much more influence in determining beliefs on social questions than has the small amount of evidence collected. [Herbert Spencer, "The Study of Sociology," 1873]
For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes. Therefore he rejects difficult things from impatience of research; sober things, because they narrow hope; the deeper things of nature, from superstition; the light of experience, from arrogance and pride, lest his mind should seem to be occupied with things mean and transitory; things not commonly believed, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar. Numberless in short are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which the affections colour and infect the understanding. [Francis Bacon, "Novum Organum," 1620]
Middle English mirie, from Old English myrge "pleasing, agreeable, pleasant, sweet, exciting feelings of enjoyment and gladness" (said of grass, trees, the world, music, song); also as an adverb, "pleasantly, melodiously," from Proto-Germanic *murgijaz, which probably originally meant "short-lasting," (compare Old High German murg "short," Gothic gamaurgjan "to shorten"), from PIE root *mregh-u- "short." The only exact cognate for meaning outside English was Middle Dutch mergelijc "joyful."
The connection to "pleasure" likely was via the notion of "making time fly, that which makes the time seem to pass quickly" (compare German Kurzweil "pastime," literally "a short time;" Old Norse skemta "to amuse, entertain, amuse oneself," from skamt, neuter of skammr "short"). There also was a verbal form in Old English, myrgan "be merry, rejoice." For vowel evolution, see bury (v.).
Not originally applied to humorous moods or speech or conduct, yet the word had a much wider senses in Middle English than modern: "pleasant-sounding" (of animal voices), "fine" (of weather), "handsome" (of dress), "pleasant-tasting" (of herbs). The evolution of the modern senses is probably via the meaning "pleased by a certain event or situation or state of things" (c. 1200). Of persons, "cheerful by disposition or nature; playfully cheerful, enlivened with gladness or good spirits," by mid-14c.
Merry-bout "an incident of sexual intercourse" was low slang from 1780. Merry-begot "illegitimate" (adj.), also "bastard" (n.) are in Grose (1785). Merrie England (now frequently satirical or ironic) is c. 1400, meri ingland, originally in a broader sense of "bountiful, prosperous." Merry Monday was a 16c. term for "the Monday before Shrove Tuesday" (Mardi Gras).
c. 1400, perhaps mid-14c., "person of non-Christian or non-Jewish faith," from Late Latin paganus "pagan," in classical Latin "villager, rustic; civilian, non-combatant" noun use of adjective meaning "of the country, of a village," from pagus "country people; province, rural district," originally "district limited by markers," thus related to pangere "to fix, fasten," from PIE root *pag- "to fasten." As an adjective from early 15c.
The religious sense often was said in 19c. [e.g. Trench] to derive from conservative rural adherence to the old gods after the Christianization of Roman towns and cities; but the Latin word in this sense predates that period in Church history, and it is more likely derived from the use of paganus in Roman military jargon for "civilian, incompetent soldier," which Christians (Tertullian, c. 202; Augustine) picked up with the military imagery of the early Church (such as milites "soldier of Christ," etc.).
The English word was used later in a narrower sense of "one not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim." As "person of heathenish character or habits," by 1841. Applied to modern pantheists and nature-worshippers from 1908.
Pagan and heathen are primarily the same in meaning; but pagan is sometimes distinctively applied to those nations that, although worshiping false gods, are more cultivated, as the Greeks and Romans, and heathen to uncivilized idolaters, as the tribes of Africa. A Mohammedan is not counted a pagan much less a heathen. [Century Dictionary, 1897]
The English surname Paine, Payne, etc., appears by old records to be from Latin paganus, but whether in the sense "villager," "rustic," or "heathen" is disputed. It also was a common Christian name in 13c., "and was, no doubt, given without any thought of its meaning" ["Dictionary of English Surnames"].
early 13c., "skill as a result of learning or practice," from Old French art (10c.), from Latin artem (nominative ars) "work of art; practical skill; a business, craft," from PIE *ar(ə)-ti- (source also of Sanskrit rtih "manner, mode;" Greek artizein "to prepare"), suffixed form of root *ar- "to fit together." Etymologically akin to Latin arma "weapons" (see arm (n.2)).
In Middle English usually with a sense of "skill in scholarship and learning" (c. 1300), especially in the seven sciences, or liberal arts. This sense remains in Bachelor of Arts, etc. The meaning "human workmanship" (as opposed to nature) is from late 14c. The meaning "system of rules and traditions for performing certain actions" is from late 15c. The sense of "skill in cunning and trickery" is attested by late 16c. (the sense in artful, artless). The meaning "skill in creative arts" is recorded by 1610s; especially of painting, sculpture, etc., from 1660s.
In science you must not talk before you know. In art you must not talk before you do. In literature you must not talk before you think. [Ruskin, "The Eagle's Nest," 1872]
Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truths, passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius, but never abandoned. The revolt of individualism came because the tradition had become degraded, or rather because a spurious copy had been accepted in its stead. [William Butler Yeats, journal, 1909]
Expression art for art's sake (1824) translates French l'art pour l'art. First record of art critic is from 1847. Arts and crafts "decorative design and handcraft" is from the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, founded in London in 1888.
c. 1300, "belonging to all, owned or used jointly, general, of a public nature or character," from Old French comun "common, general, free, open, public" (9c., Modern French commun), from Latin communis "in common, public, shared by all or many; general, not specific; familiar, not pretentious." This is from a reconstructed PIE compound *ko-moin-i- "held in common," compound adjective formed from *ko- "together" + *moi-n-, suffixed form of root *mei- (1) "to change, go, move," hence literally "shared by all."
The second element of the compound also is the source of Latin munia "duties, public duties, functions," those related to munia "office." Perhaps reinforced in Old French by the Germanic form of PIE *ko-moin-i- (compare German gemein, Old English gemne "common, public, general, universal;" see mean (adj.)), which came to French via Frankish.
Used disparagingly of women and criminals since c. 1300. Meaning "pertaining equally to or proceeding equally from two or more" is from c. 1400. Meaning "usual, not exceptional, of frequent occurrence" is from late 14c. Sense of "not distinguished, belonging to the general mass" is from c. 1400; of things, "ordinary, not excellent," late 14c.
Common pleas is 13c., from Anglo-French communs plets, hearing civil actions by one subject against another as opposed to pleas of the crown. Common prayer is that done in public in unity with other worshipers; contrasted with private prayer. Common stock is attested from 1888. Common speech (late 14c.) is the vernacular, as opposed to Latin. Common good (late 14c.) translates Latin bonum publicum "the common weal." The college common room (1660s) is one to which all members have common access.
"not high, below the usual level," late 13c., earlier lah (late 12c.), "not rising much, being near the base or ground" (of objects or persons), also "lying on the ground or in a deep place" (late 13c.). This is not found in Old English, so the word is probably from Old Norse lagr "low, low-down, short; humble," or a similar Scandinavian source (compare Swedish låg, Danish lav), from Proto-Germanic *lega- "lying flat, low" (source also of Old Frisian lech, Middle Dutch lage, Dutch laag "low," dialectal German läge "flat"), from PIE root *legh- "to lie down, lay."
In reference to sounds, "not loud," also "having a deep pitch," from c. 1300. Meaning "humble in rank" is from c. 1200; "undignified, not high in character" is from 1550s; meaning "coarse, vulgar" is from 1759. Sense of "dejected, dispirited" is attested from 1737. Of prices, from c. 1400. In geographical usage, low refers to the part of a country near the sea-shore (c. 1300), as in Low Countries "Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg" (1540s). Low German languages (1845) are so called for being spoken in the lower elevations of old Germany.
Abject, low, and mean may have essentially the same meaning, but low is more often used with respect to nature, condition, or rank: mean, to character or conduct: abject, to spirit. [Century Dictionary, 1897]
Low blow in the figurative sense (1940s) is from pugilism. To lie low is from mid-13c. as "get down so as not to be seen," 1880 in the modern slang sense "keep quiet." Low Church in 18c. English history referred to Anglicans laying little stress on church authority (1702); in 19c. it meant evangelical Anglicans.
"bent or vertical handle for turning a revolving axis," Old English *cranc, implied in crancstæf "a weaver's instrument," crencestre "female weaver, spinster," which is related to crincan "to bend, yield," from Proto-Germanic *krank- "bend, curl up" (see cringe).
English retains the literal sense of the ancient word ("something bent or crooked"), while in other Germanic languages it tends to have only a figurative sense (German and Dutch krank "sick," formerly "weak, small"). The Continental definition entered into English crank via slang counterfeit crank "one who shams sickness to get charity" (1560s). OED notes that "the 16th c. vagabonds' cant contains words taken directly from Continental languages." It apparently lingered in the north (the 1825 supplement to Jamieson's Scottish dictionary has crank "infirm, weak, etc.") and might have influenced the development of the English word.
Meaning "twist or turn of speech, grotesquery in words" is from 1590s; that of "absurd or unreasonable act" (perhaps caused by "twisted judgment") is from 1848. The sense of "eccentric person," especially one who is irrationally fixated, is first recorded 1833; this sometimes is said to be from the crank of a barrel organ, which makes it play the same tune over and over; but more likely it is a back-formation from cranky (q.v.) and thus from the notion of one having a mental "twist."
The person who adopts "any presentiment, any extravagance as most in nature," is not commonly called a Transcendentalist, but is known colloquially as a "crank." [Oliver W. Holmes, "Ralph Waldo Emerson"]
There also was a crank (adj.) in Middle English meaning "lively, brisk, merry," but it is of uncertain origin and connection. Cranky for "merry, lively" lingered into 19c. in northern England dialects and American English. Meaning "methamphetamine" attested by 1989, from the verb.
mid-14c., "something laid, placed or spread (on something else)," from cover (v.). Sense of "something which veils or screens from sight" is from c. 1400. From c. 1500 as "shelter" of any kind, later especially in hunting, "shrubbery, brush, or thickets which conceal game" (1719).
Meaning "binding or wrapper of a book" is from 1590s; that of "envelope or wrapper for a letter" is by 1748. Meaning "recording of a song already recorded by another" is by 1970, short for cover version (1966). Cover-band "band that plays only cover songs" is by 1981. Cover girl is U.S. slang from 1915, shortening of magazine-cover girl (1899).
Cover-charge is attested by 1913. The immediate sense of cover in it appears to be the old one of "plate, knives, forks, spoons, napkin, wine glasses, etc., used at the table by one person," from French couvert, literally "a cover," in the same sense; supposedly they were so called because they were originally brought together in a case.
According to contemporary publications, cover came to include table condiments and bread and butter, and c. 1910 some restaurants began to charge extra for these. ["... a smart New York restauranteur recently made a 'cover charge' of twenty-five cents for bread and butter and ice-water. Others followed." - Edward Hungerford, "The Personality of American Cities," 1913]
In this sense, cover also probably involves the banquet service use of cover for a charge which includes ("covers") everything provided with the food — menu card, flowers, music, etc.
In recent years hotels, particularly those featuring entertainment in their restaurants, have made a so-called cover charge which includes entertainment in addition to the table service. For instance, at some of the larger hotels in New York, where there is dancing, or cabaret, or high-priced soloists, or entertainment of costly nature provided, there is a cover charge, sometimes as high as $1 the seat. [Hotel Monthly, December 1917]
c. 1300, "determined, fixed," from Old French certain "reliable, sure, assured" (12c.), from Vulgar Latin *certanus, extended form of Latin certus "determined, resolved, fixed, settled," of things whose qualities are invariable, "established," also "placed beyond doubt, sure, true, proved; unerring, to be depended upon" (also source of Old French cert, Italian certo, Spanish cierto), originally a variant past participle of cernere "to distinguish, decide," literally "to sift, separate." This Latin verb comes from the PIE root *krei- "to sieve," thus "discriminate, distinguish," which is also the source of Greek krisis "turning point, judgment, result of a trial" (compare crisis).
The transferred sense, in reference to persons, "full of confidence in one's knowledge or judgment, made certain in reference to a matter or thing," is from mid-14c. (it also was a sense in Latin). The meaning "established as true beyond doubt" in English is from c. 1400. The meaning "indefinite, not specifically named, known but not described" is from late 14c.
Different as this seems to be from sense I, it is hardly separable from it in a large number of examples: thus, in [a certain hour], the hour was quite 'certain' or 'fixed', but it is not communicated to the reader; to him it remains, so far as his knowledge is concerned, quite indefinite; it may have been, as far as he knows, at any hour; though, as a fact, it was at a particular hour. [OED]
Lewis & Short write that Latin certus also was sometimes indefinite, "of things, the certainty of whose existence is given, but whose nature is not more definitely designated, or comes not into consideration ...."
Hence the euphemistic use, attested from mid-18c., as in woman of a certain age "an old maid;" woman of a certain description "disreputable woman;" in a certain condition "pregnant;" a certain disease "venereal disease;" of a certain weight "obese." Used with proper names from 1785, "often conveying a slight shade of disdain" [OED]. Certainer, certainest were common to c. 1750, but have fallen from proper use for some reason. Expression for certain "assuredly" is attested by early 14c.
1590s, "pertaining to the island of Lesbos," from Latin Lesbius, from Greek lesbios "of Lesbos," Greek island in northeastern Aegean Sea (the name originally may have meant "wooded"), home of Sappho, great lyric poet whose erotic and romantic verse embraced women as well as men, hence meaning "relating to homosexual relations between women, characterized by erotic interest in other women" (in continuous use from 1890; the noun lesbianism from this sense is attested from 1870) and the noun, which is first recorded 1925.
Sappho's particular association with erotic love between women (with or without concurrent relations with men) dates to at least 1732 in writing in English, though the continuous use of lesbian and the modern words formed from it are from late 19c. The use of lesbian as a noun and an adjective in this sense seems to follow the same pattern.
In another Place the same commentator conjectures, that Myra is a Corruption of Myrrhina а famous Courtesan of Athens, who first practis'd and taught in that City Sappho's Manner and the Lesbian Gambols. ["Peregrine O Donald" (William King), "The Toast," 1732]
Before this, the principal figurative use of Lesbian was lesbian rule (c. 1600 and especially common in 17c.) a mason's rule of lead, of a type used in ancient times on Lesbos, which could be bent to fit the curves of a molding; hence, figuratively, "pliant morality or judgment."
And this is the nature of the equitable, a correction of law where it is defective owing to its universality. ... For when the thing is indefinite the rule also is indefinite, like the leaden rule used in making the Lesbian moulding; the rule adapts itself to the shape of the stone and is not rigid, and so too the decree is adapted to the facts. [Aristotle, "Nicomachean Ethics"]
It also was used in English from 1775 in reference to wines from Lesbos. Though the specific "pertaining to female homosexuality" is recent, Lesbian had long before that a suggestion of "amatory, erotic," "From the reputed character of the inhabitants and the tone of their poetry" [Century Dictionary]. The island's erotic reputation was ancient; Greek had a verb lesbiazein "to imitate the Lesbians," which implied "sexual initiative and shamelessness" among women (especially fellatio), but not necessarily female homosexuality, and they did not differentiate such things the way we have.