late 14c., "deadly, destructive to life; causing or threatening death" (of illness, poisons, wounds, etc.); also, of persons or the body, "doomed to die, subject to death;" from Old French mortel "destined to die; deserving of death" and directly from Latin mortalis "subject to death, mortal, of a mortal, human," from mors (genitive mortis) "death."
This is reconstructed to be from PIE *mr-o- "to die," *mr-to- "dead," *mr-ti- "death," all from PIE root *mer- "to rub away, harm" (also "to die" and forming words referring to death and to beings subject to death). The most widespread Indo-European root for "to die," it forms the common word for it except in Greek and Germanic.
"Subject to death," hence "human, of or pertaining to humans" (early 15c.). Also from late 14c. as "implacable, to be satisfied only by death" (of hatreds, enemies, etc.). Meaning "extreme, very great" is from late 14c. A mortal sin (early 15c., opposed to venial) is one that incurs the penalty of spiritual death.
1560s, "a law or decree," from Latin sanctionem (nominative sanctio) "act of decreeing or ordaining," also "a decree, an ordinance, a law," noun of action from past-participle stem of sancire "to decree, confirm, ratify, make sacred" (see saint (n.)).
Originally especially of ecclesiastical decrees. The extended sense of "express authoritative permission" is by 1720, hence the looser sense of "the conferring of authority upon (an opinion, practice or sentiment); confirmation of support derived from public approval" (1738). Moral sanction, in Bentham's philosophy, is "the knowledge of how one's neighbors will take a given act, as a motive for doing or not doing it" [Century Dictionary].
As "a penalty enacted according to a provision in a law to enforce obedience to it" from 1630s; in later 17c. also "a provision of a law which enforces obedience through rewards or penalties." Hence the modern sense of "economic or quasi-military action by a state against another," usually to enforce terms of a law or treaty that has been violated (1919).
c. 1300, pardoun, "papal indulgence, forgiveness of sins or wrongdoing," from Old French pardon, from pardoner "to grant; forgive" (11c., Modern French pardonner), "to grant, forgive," and directly from Medieval Latin perdonum, from Vulgar Latin *perdonare "to give wholeheartedly, to remit," from Latin per "through, thoroughly" (from PIE root *per- (1) "forward," hence "through") + donare "give as a gift," from donum "gift," from PIE *donum "gift," from root *do- "to give."
Meaning "a passing over of an offense without punishment" is from c. 1300, also in the strictly ecclesiastical sense; the sense of "pardon for a civil or criminal offense; release from penalty or obligation" is from late 14c., earlier in Anglo-French. Weaker sense of "excuse for a minor fault" is attested from 1540s. To beg (one's) pardon "ask forgiveness" is by 1640s.
Strictly, pardon expresses the act of an official or a superior, remitting all or the remainder of the punishment that belongs to an offense: as, the queen or the governor pardons a convict before the expiration of his sentence. Forgive refers especially to the feelings; it means that one not only resolves to overlook the offense and reestablishes amicable relations with the offender, but gives up all ill feeling against him. [Century Dictionary]
Old English synn "moral wrongdoing, injury, mischief, enmity, feud, guilt, crime, offense against God, misdeed," from Proto-Germanic *sundiō "sin" (source also of Old Saxon sundia, Old Frisian sende, Middle Dutch sonde, Dutch zonde, German Sünde "sin, transgression, trespass, offense," extended forms), probably ultimately "it is true," i.e. "the sin is real" (compare Gothic sonjis, Old Norse sannr "true"), from PIE *snt-ya-, a collective form from *es-ont- "becoming," present participle of root *es- "to be."
The semantic development is via notion of "to be truly the one (who is guilty)," as in Old Norse phrase verð sannr at "be found guilty of," and the use of the phrase "it is being" in Hittite confessional formula. The same process probably yielded the Latin word sons (genitive sontis) "guilty, criminal" from present participle of sum, esse "to be, that which is." Some etymologists believe the Germanic word was an early borrowing directly from the Latin genitive. Also see sooth.
Sin-eater is attested from 1680s. To live in sin "cohabit without marriage" is from 1838; used earlier in a more general sense. Ice hockey slang sin bin "penalty box" is attested from 1950.
Middle English dampnen, also damnen, dammen, late 13c. as a legal term, "to condemn, declare guilty, convict;" c. 1300 in the theological sense of "doom to punishment in a future state," from Old French damner "damn, condemn; convict, blame; injure," derivative of Latin damnare "to adjudge guilty; to doom; to condemn, blame, reject," from noun damnum "damage, hurt, harm; loss, injury; a fine, penalty," from Proto-Italic *dapno-, possibly from an ancient religious term from PIE *dap- "to apportion in exchange" [Watkins] or *dhp-no- "expense, investment" [de Vaan]. The -p- in the English word disappeared 16c.
The legal meaning "pronounce judgment upon" evolved in the Latin word. The optative expletive use likely is as old as the theological sense. Damn and its derivatives generally were avoided in print from 18c. to 1930s (the famous line in the film version of "Gone with the Wind" was a breakthrough and required much effort by the studio). Meaning "judge or pronounce (a work) to be bad by public expression" is from 1650s; to damn with faint praise is from Pope.
The noun is recorded from 1610s, "utterance of the word 'damn.'" To be not worth a damn is from 1817. To not give (or care) a damn is by 1760. The adjective is 1775, short for damned; Damn Yankee, the characteristic Southern U.S. term for "Northerner," is attested by 1812 (as damned). Related: Damning.
early 13c., "of or pertaining to the head," from Old French capital, from Latin capitalis "of the head," hence "capital, chief, first," from caput (genitive capitis) "head" (from PIE root *kaput- "head"). Meaning "main, principal, chief, dominant, first in importance" is from early 15c. in English. The modern informal sense of "excellent, first-rate" is by 1754 (as an exclamation of approval, OED's first example is 1875), perhaps from earlier use of the word in reference to ships, "first-rate, powerful enough to be in the line of battle," attested from 1650s, fallen into disuse after 1918. Related: Capitally.
A capital letter "upper-case latter," of larger face and differing more or less in form (late 14c.) is so called because it stands at the "head" of a sentence or word. Capital gain is recorded from 1921. Capital goods is recorded from 1899.
A capital crime or offense (1520s) is one that involves the penalty of death and thus affects the life or "head" (capital had a sense of "deadly, mortal" from late 14c. in English, as it did earlier in Latin). The felt connection between "head" and "life, mortality" also existed in Old English: as in heafodgilt "deadly sin, capital offense," heafdes þolian "to forfeit life." Capital punishment was in Blackstone (1765) and classical Latin capitis poena.
1826, "advocacy of empire, devotion to imperial interests," originally in a Napoleonic context, also of Rome and of British foreign policy; from imperial + -ism. At times in British usage (and briefly in U.S.) with a neutral or positive sense relating to national interests or the spread of the benefits of Western civilization, but from the beginning usually more or less a term of reproach. General sense of "one country's rule over another," first recorded 1878.
It is the old story of 1798, when French republicanism sick of its own folly and misdeeds, became metamorphosed into imperialism, and consoled itself for its incapacity to found domestic freedom by putting an iron yoke upon Europe, and covering it with blood and battle-fields. [Francis Lloyd, St. James's Magazine, January 1842]
The word sharpened its pejorative after 1900, with U.S. revulsion to Philippine insurrection and the publication of J.A. Hobson's book on imperialism, through which the term was taken up in the 1910s by communist writers.
Imperialism is a depraved choice of national life, imposed by self-seeking interests which appeal to the lusts of quantitative acquisitiveness and of forceful domination surviving in a nation from early centuries of animal struggle for existence. Its adoption as a policy implies a deliberate renunciation of that cultivation of the higher inner qualities which for a nation as for an individual constitutes the ascendency of reason over brute impulse. It is the besetting sin of all successful States, and its penalty is unalterable in the order of nature. [J.A. Hobson, "Imperialism: A Study," London, 1902]
early 14c., "one who holds an official post, one entrusted with a responsibility or share of the management of some undertaking" (originally a high office), from Old French oficier "officer, official" (early 14c., Modern French officier), from Medieval Latin officiarius "an officer," from Latin officium "a service, a duty" (see office).
In Middle English also "a servant, a retainer of a great household; an official at court" (late 14c.). From late 14c. as "a military retainer," but the modern military sense of "one who holds a commission in the army or navy" is from 1560s. Applied to petty officials of justice from 16c.; U.S. use in reference to policemen is from 1880s.
The phrase officer and a gentleman in reference to one having the qualities of both is by 1762 and was standard language in British court-martial indictments ("behaviour infamous and scandalous such as is unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman").
The words 'officer and gentleman,' though in general to be understood as one single and indivisible term, appear not to be so used here. The misbehaviour, entailing on it the penalty declared by this article, must be such, as I understand it, as to implicate, in the first place, the officer; that is, it must arise in some sort out of his office; and affect incidentally only, the character of the gentleman. It must be such a misconduct, as must necessarily dissever what should ever be indivisible, the consideration of the officer from the gentleman. It must be of that decisively low, humiliating, and debasing kind, as to lay prostrate the honour of the gentleman, in the degradation of the officer. [Capt. Hough and George Long, "The Practice of Courts-Martial," London, 1825]
Old English deaþ "total cessation of life, act or fact of dying, state of being dead; cause of death," in plural, "ghosts," from Proto-Germanic *dauthuz (source also of Old Saxon doth, Old Frisian dath, Dutch dood, Old High German tod, German Tod, Old Norse dauði, Danish død, Swedish död, Gothic dauus "death"), from verbal stem *dau-, which is perhaps from PIE root *dheu- (3) "to die" (see die (v.)). With Proto-Germanic *-thuz suffix indicating "act, process, condition."
I would not that death should take me asleep. I would not have him meerly seise me, and onely declare me to be dead, but win me, and overcome me. When I must shipwrack, I would do it in a sea, where mine impotencie might have some excuse; not in a sullen weedy lake, where I could not have so much as exercise for my swimming. [John Donne, letter to Sir Henry Goodere, Sept. 1608]
Of inanimate things, "cessation, end," late 14c. From late 12c. as "death personified, a skeleton as the figure of mortality." As "a plague, a great mortality," late 14c. (in reference to the first outbreak of bubonic plague; compare Black Death). Death's-head, a symbol of mortality, is from 1590s. Death's door "the near approach of death" is from 1540s.
As a verbal intensifier "to death, mortally" (as in hate (something) to death) 1610s; earlier to dead (early 14c.). Slang be death on "be very good at" is from 1839. To be the death of "be the cause or occasion of death" is in Shakespeare (1596). Expression a fate worse than death is from 1810 though the idea is ancient.
Death row "part of a prison exclusively for those condemned to capital execution" is by 1912. Death knell is attested from 1814; death penalty "capital punishment" is from 1844; death rate from 1859. Death-throes "struggle which in some cases accompanies death" is from c. 1300.
1835, "inflict severe (but not deliberately fatal) bodily punishment (on someone) without legal sanction," from earlier Lynch law (1811), in reference to such activity, which was likely named after William Lynch (1742-1820) of Pittsylvania, Virginia, who c. 1780 led a vigilance committee to keep order there during the Revolution. Other sources trace the name to Charles Lynch (1736-1796) a Virginia magistrate who fined and imprisoned Tories in his district c. 1782, but the connection to him is less likely. The surname is perhaps from Irish Loingseach "sailor."
It implies lawless concert or action among a number of members of the community, to supply the want of criminal justice or to anticipate its delays, or to inflict a penalty demanded by public opinion, though in defiance of the laws. [Century Dictionary, 1895]
Originally any sort of summary justice, done without authority of law, for a crime or public offense; it especially referred to flogging or tarring-and-feathering. At first the act was associated with frontier regions (as in the above citation), though from c. 1835 to the U.S. Civil War it also often was directed against abolitionists. The narrowing of the meaning to "extra-legal execution by hanging" is evident by the 1880s, and after c. 1893 lynching mostly meant killings of blacks by white mobs (especially in retaliation for alleged sexual assaults of white women). This shift in use seems due in part to the work of African-American journalist and activist Ida B. Wells. Lynch mob is attested from 1838. Compare earlier Lydford law, from a place in Dartmoor, England, "where was held a Stannaries Court of summary jurisdiction" [Weekley], hence:
Lydford law: is to hang men first, and indite them afterwards. [Thomas Blount, "Glossographia," 1656]
Also in a similar sense was Jedburgh justice (1706) and, as a verb, to Dewitt (1680s), a reference to two Dutch statesmen of that name, opponents of William of Orange, murdered by a mob in 1672. Related: Lynched; lynching. The city of Lynchburg, Virginia, dates to the 1750s when John Lynch, brother to Charles but a peaceable Quaker, had a ferry landing on the James River there.