Old English near "closer, nearer," comparative of neah, neh"nigh." Partially by the influence of Old Norse naer "near," it came to be used in English as a positive form mid-13c., and new comparative nearer developed in the 1500s (see nigh). Originally an adverb but now supplanted in most such senses by nearly; it has in turn supplanted correct nigh as an adjective.
The adjectival use dates from c. 1300, "being close by, not distant;" from late 14c. as "closely related by kinship;" 1610s as "economical, parsimonious." Colloquial use for "so as to barely escape injury or danger" (as in a near thing, near miss) is by 1751. As a preposition, "close to, close by, near in space or time," from mid-13c. Related: Nearness. In near and dear (1620s) it refers to nearness of kinship. Near East is by 1894 (probably based on Far East). Near beer "low-alcoholic brew" is from 1908.
1630s, "a ghost, specter, disembodied spirit" (earlier as larve, c. 1600), from Latin larva (plural larvae), earlier larua "ghost, evil spirit, demon," also "mask," a word from Roman mythology, of unknown origin; de Vaan finds a possible derivation from Lar "tutelary god" (see Lares) "quite attractive semantically."
Crowded out in its original sense by the zoological use (1768) which began with Linnaeus, who applied the word to immature forms of animals that do not resemble, and thus "mask," the adult forms.
On the double sense of the Latin word, Carlo Ginzburg, among other observers of mythology and folklore, has commented on "the well-nigh universal association between masks and the spirits of the dead."
mid-15c., "wishing to do good, well-disposed, kindly," from Old French benivolent and directly from Latin benevolentem (nominative benevolens) "wishing (someone) well, benevolent," related to benevolentia "good feeling," from bene "well" (see bene-) + volentem (nominative volens) present participle of velle "to wish" (see will (v.)). Related: Benevolently.