c. 1300, retrete, "a step backward;" late 14c., "act of retiring or withdrawing; military signal for retiring from action or exercise," from Old French retret, retrait, noun use of past participle of retrere "draw back," from Latin retrahere "draw back, withdraw, call back," from re- "back" (see re-) + trahere "to draw" (see tract (n.1)).
Meaning "place of seclusion" is from early 15c.; sense of "establishment for mentally ill persons" is from 1797. Meaning "period of retirement for religious self-examination" is from 1756.
early 13c., "gesture or motion of the hand," especially one meant to communicate something, from Old French signe "sign, mark," from Latin signum "identifying mark, token, indication, symbol; proof; military standard, ensign; a signal, an omen; sign in the heavens, constellation."
According to Watkins, literally "standard that one follows," from PIE *sekw-no-, from root *sekw- (1) "to follow." But de Vaan has it from PIE *sekh-no- "cut," from PIE root *sek- "to cut" He writes: "The etymological appurtenance to seco 'to cut' implies a semantic shift of *sek-no- 'what is cut out', 'carved out' > 'sign'." But he also also compares Hebrew sakkin, Aramaic sakkin "slaughtering-knife," and mentions a theory that "both words are probably borrowed from an unknown third source."
It has ousted native token. Meaning "a mark or device having some special importance" is recorded from late 13c.; that of "a miracle" is from c. 1300. Zodiacal sense in English is from mid-14c. Sense of "characteristic device attached to the front of an inn, shop, etc., to distinguish it from others" is first recorded mid-15c. Meaning "token or signal of some condition" (late 13c.) is behind sign of the times (1520s). In some uses, the word probably is a shortening of ensign. Sign language is recorded from 1847; earlier hand-language (1670s).
Old English had the adverb bæcling. As an adjective, from 1550s. Meaning "behindhand with regard to progress" is first attested 1690s. To ring bells backward (from lowest to highest), c. 1500, was a signal of alarm for fire or invasion, or to express dismay. Another Middle English word for "backward, wrongly" was arseward (c. 1400); Old English had earsling.
"words spoken at the end of a speech in a play that are the signal for an answering speech," 1550s, of uncertain origin. By one theory it is a spelling out of Q, the letter, which was used 16c., 17c. in stage plays to indicate actors' entrances and was explained at the time as an abbreviation of Latin quando "when" (from PIE root *kwo-, stem of relative and interrogative pronouns) or a similar Latin adverb. Shakespeare's printed texts have it as both Q and cue. Cue as a name for "the letter Q" is attested from 1755.
Transferred to music by 1880. Figurative sense of "sign or hint to speak or act" is from 1560s. The television reader's cue-card is attested by 1948.
"action in resistance or response to another action or power," 1640s, from re- "back, again, anew" + action (q.v.). Modeled on French réaction, older Italian reattione, from Medieval Latin reactionem (nominative reactio), a noun of action formed in Late Latin from the past-participle stem of Latin reagere "react," from re- "back" + agere "to do, perform."
Originally a word in physics and dynamics. In chemistry, "mutual or reciprocal action of chemical agents upon each other," by 1836. The general sense of "action or feeling in response" (to a statement, event, etc.) is recorded from 1914. Reaction time, "time elapsing between the action of an external stimulus and the giving of a signal in reply," attested by 1874.